Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Memories from D.C.

Washington, D.C. is the only city where you can run into the Magna Carta on your way to read the Declaration of Independence. It's the only place where you can listen to oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court and then chat with Justice Scalia weeks later. It's the only spot where you can stumble across the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald in a small cemetery by the freeway. It's one of the only districts where tango dances are held in libraries, where everyone reads the newspaper during morning metro commutes, where people listen to jazz and ice skate in sculpture gardens.

During my semester in D.C., I learned that the city has an identity apart from the White House, Capitol Hill, and the National Mall. Washington is not a strictly professional and political district, as I originally thought, but a personal capital where government employees head to happy hour after work, where the classy streets of Georgetown are converted to a costumed bar crawl on Halloween.

Here are the people and places that allowed me to see D.C. beyond its museums and monuments:

My Internship
I interned at a whistleblower law firm and non-profit organization that represent high-profile clients such as White House employee Linda Tripp, FBI Agent Bassem Youssef, and lead Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino. Despite their heavy caseload and reputation as some of the best whistleblower attorneys in the field, lawyers wore T-shirts and jeans to work when they were not scheduled to appear in court. Everyone knew my name. Doors were left open and questions were always welcome. The lawyers liked to discuss politics, painting, sports, and gardening. They were human. They made the law seem less intimidating. I felt like I was a member of a family rather than an intern at two legal organizations.

Fittingly, the law firm and non-profit center are located in Georgetown townhouses decorated with the attorneys' own artwork. My days began with a 20 minute walk from the Dupont Circle metro to the firm and not-for-profit organization in the heart of Georgetown. Everyday, before I passed a row of Victorian style houses, I waved hello to a worker selling French crepes. I felt like a Washingtonian instead of a city visitor.

Favorite Internship Memories:
  • Teaching attorneys to cha-cha and sampling vegan food at a lawyer's house party
  • Listening to Christie Hefner speak at the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards
  • Exchanging music and listening to Phil Ochs with my supervisor
  • Hearing a leader from the Philippines discuss the challenges that whistleblowers face in his country
  • Group lunches from Wisey's and homemade ice cream from Thomas Sweets (also has some of the best fudge in D.C.)
  • Reading intake forms from whistleblowers across the United States and reviewing their claims with the firm's lead attorney
  • Talking with law student interns, my supervisor, my supervisor's mother, and my co-workers about everything ranging from law school to fashion
  • Drinking tea and listening to panel discussions at a whistleblower seminar at the historic Willard InterContinental Hotel
My FriendsThe group of friends that I made in D.C. were as diverse as the district's population. Together, we represented Oregon, California, New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Missouri, Boston, Korea, and Mexico. Although we all came from different states and countries, we understood each other well and I felt like we were together for years instead of months. (My friends still liked me after they learned of my garden gnome fetish, for example). I loved meeting new people, trying different things, learning about other cultures, and hearing fresh opinions.

Favorite Friend Memories:
  • Cruising under man-made waterfalls and eating pizza with vodka sauce on our trip to New York
  • Listening to slam poetry and going to a hip hop concert on U Street
  • Grocery shopping and cooking our own turkey dinner for Thanksgiving
  • Watching Giselle at the Kennedy Center
  • Conversation hours with a friend from Mexico
  • Salsa dancing at Café Citron and tango dancing at the West End Library and Chevy Chase Ballroom
  • Taking a ghost tour of Old Town Alexandria
  • Eating Indian food at Adams Morgan
  • Farewell dessert at the Old Ebbitt Grill, a historic oyster bar and grill near the White House

After my semester internship in D.C., I know that I want to apply to law schools and I am aware of the steps that I must take in the admissions process. I return home with a new confidence that comes from working in an office, living independently, and socializing with different people.

Now I'm off to the other Washington to finish my senior year of college. Farewell, D.C.! I'll be back.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Read All About It

The Newseum, like its name suggests, is a museum dedicated entirely to telling the history of the news and the media. Located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue (there is a beautiful view of the historic street from the top floor of the building) and Sixth Street, the Newseum is by far my favorite museum in Washington, D.C.

The interactive Newseum blends five centuries of news history with information about current technological trends (blogs, for example) and their effects on the news. Here are a few of my
favorite Newseum exhibits:
  • Eight 12-foot-high sections of the Berlin Wall and a three-story watchtower that once stood near Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin. After examining the graffiti on one side of the wall and stepping inside the tower where guards were ordered to shoot anyone trying to escape, I read about the role of the media during the Cold War
  • The Watergate door complete with the taped doorknob that alerted a security guard on site to suspicious activity. The door led to the arrest of five men attempting to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters under President Nixon's orders
  • Kennedy's notes from the first televised presidential debate
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning photos (The exhibit includes the photographers' descriptions of how they captured their incredible shots)
  • A 4D theater with moving chairs and squirting water. The movie features the history of Nellie Bly, an innovator in 19th century investigative reporting. Nellie Bly went undercover as a mental patient at the Woman's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island and revealed the mistreatment of patients
  • Front pages from around the world (The headlines during my visit focused on Black Friday and the Wal-Mart worker trampled to death by crazed shoppers)
  • A place to vote for the breed of dog that Obama should take to the White house (I voted for the Bichon)
  • Videos of memorable inaugural speeches

A visit to the Newseum is not complete without stopping by the interactive newsroom where you can become a news anchor. I picked the U.S. Supreme Court as a background. My brief report about the controversial issues on the Court's current docket was then broadcast on all of the TVs in the museum.

The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Made homemade stuffing and mashed potatoes for a Thanksgiving feast with friends
  • Saw the San Francisco Ballet perform Giselle at The Kennedy Center. The Second half of the ballet was breathtaking. Set in a foggy forest, Giselle danced from her grave in a white tutu
  • Ate salmon at Sequoia, a restaurant by the waterfront in Georgetown

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Pentagon and Pancakes

Last week began with a visit to the Pentagon and ended with a stack of famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes. Here's what kept me busy:

The Pentagon:
On Monday, I toured one of the world's largest and most powerful office buildings. About 23,000 military and civilian employees work at the Pentagon, the headquarters for the United States Department of Defense. My tour only covered one mile of the five-sided building where workers send approximately 1,000,000 e-mails and make around 200,000 phone calls daily.

As part of the tour, I stood in the very corridor where the hijacked Boeing 757 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11. I glanced at the names of Medal of Honor recipients in the nearby September 11 Memorial Chapel. I learned about the four branches of the military (Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps) which, much to my embarrassment, I could barely name before visiting the Pentagon. I was surprised to find the Pentagon decorated primarily with quilts. These patched works of art, gifts from U.S. and foreign citizens to commemorate the lives lost on September 11, gave the massive military institution an oddly homey feel.

The National Press Club Book Fair: When I arrived to work on Tuesday, a co-worker from the National Whistleblowers Center asked if I wanted to help pass out informational brochures at the National Press club's 31st Annual Book Fair and Author's Night. My co-worker told me that Bunnatine Greenhouse, a well-known whistleblower who refused to support corrupt Halliburton no-bid contracts in Iraq, was scheduled to help promote a book on American whistleblowers at the event.

After meeting and shaking hands wi
th "Bunny," I perused the tables of books at the fair. In the center of the room, surrounded by Secret Service, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia sat signing copies of his book, Making your Case: The Art of Persuading Justices.

Although he is extremely conservative and outspoken in court, Justice Scalia was unexpectedly personable as he signed my copy
of his book. I used the opportunity to tell him how much I loved hearing oral argument at the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia said that oral argument was his favorite part of the job. He asked me which case I attended. When he finished writing, he smiled and said that he liked the name "Elena." Apparently, a girl in line asked Justice Scalia when he would cross over to the liberal side. He merely replied, "Don't hold your breath."

"The Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue": The National Whistleblowers Center hosted a seminar on Friday to train attorneys on whistleblower protections in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. The Act, a response to recalls of toys with lead paint and other hazards, protects whistleblowers and inspectors in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of consumer goods who report products that violate safety regulations. I helped set up tables, registered participating attorneys, and listened to all of the panel discussions on the new legislation.

The seminar was located in the Taft Room of the Willard InterContinental Hotel. Just a few blocks away from the White House, the Willard is known in D.C. as "The Grand Dame of American Hotles" and as "The Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue." Chandeliers, red carpeting, and marble adorned the lobby of the Willard. A few feet away from the entrance, the elite drank tea and ate petit fours while a man in a tuxedo played classical piano music.

The National Museum of American History: After a two-year closure for renovations, The Smithsonian National Museum of American History opened on Friday. My friends and I went to the museum, but changed our minds after seeing the large lines waiting to view the exhibits.

I refused to leave, however, without seeing the ruby red slippers that Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland was only 16 when she wore the size 5 sequined slippers. My kind of shoe, the ruby red slippers were made with felt soles for dance sequences. Originally silver in Frank Baum's novel, film directors changed the shoe color to red so that Dorothy's slippers would stand out against the yellow brick road.

There's no place like home, but Washington D.C. is a close second.

Library of Congress: During my tour of the Library of Congress, I learned that the library was established in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill ordering government to move from Philadelphia to Washington. The bill provided for a reference library for Congress that was housed in the new Capitol. In 1814, however, British troops set fire to the Capitol and pillaged the library. Thomas Jefferson came to the rescue and offered his personal library as a replacement. An exhibited entitled, "Thomas Jefferson's Library" featured the 6, 487 books that Jefferson provided to replace the congressional library. More than 2,000 of these books actually belonged to Jefferson and were once placed on his shelves.

The Library of Congress is ornately decorated with marble staircases, quotes about the importance of books, mosaics, and presidential busts. From the second floor, visitors can look into the reading room. A perfect vellum copy of the Gutenberg Bible, one of three, is displayed on the first floor.

The Eastern Market: Washingtonians flock to the Eastern Market on Saturday mornings to buy crafts and "Blue Buck" pancakes. Strangers cram next to each other at a single, narrow table and eat their syrupy breakfasts. After waiting in line for at least a half-hour, I sampled a stack of three blueberry buckwheat pancakes. Delicious!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Legal Advice

One of the best ways to learn how to prepare for a career is to ask for advice from experts in the field. Here is what I learned this week:

Richard Renner:
Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP

On Monday, whistleblower attorney Richard Renner spoke at a panel discussion hosted by The George Washington University Law School. Other panelists at the event included Wayne Madsen, a Washington, D.C. investigative journalist and former National Security Agency communications analyst, and David MacMichael, a former CIA analyst. Richard brought life to the audience of students and whistleblower advocates by clearly describing the complicated array of current U.S. whistleblower laws. He ended with sage advice for students interested in pursuing the increasingly popular field of whistleblower law.

Richard began his part of the discussion by pointing out that whistleblowers exist in every type of workplace. Lawyers, in fact, are mandatory whistleblowers. As the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct dictate, a lawyer must swear to speak out if they witness misconduct by a judge or a fellow attorney.

Although "Whistleblowing is part of leading a transparent life," Richard stressed that the United States does not possess a comprehensive whistleblower protection law. Due to the “messy patchwork” of whistleblower acts and statutes that exist today, whistleblower rights vary based on state, job type, and whether an employee works in the public or the private sector. As of now, there is no general law that grants all whistleblowers the right to a jury trial.

Why Whistleblowers Need Good Lawyers:

Richard explained that seven federal environmental laws passed in the 1970s protect whistleblowers. The administrative process used to enforce whistleblower rights in these laws is now also used to protect certain employees in the transportation industry (truck drivers, airline employees, public transportation workers) as well as employees who report corporate fraud.

Six out of these seven laws, however, have a statute of limitations of 30 days. This means that if a whistleblower does not file a written complaint within 30 days of their disclosure, they are out of luck. Naturally, many whistleblowers are unaware of this strict time limit.

Whistleblowers who report health and safety violations and who manage to file a timely complaint with the Occupational, Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the agency that reviews these types of whistleblower claims, are not guaranteed protection. If OSHA finds that a claim has no merit (which is frequent), these whistleblowers do not have the right to appeal, file a lawsuit, or appear at a hearing. Unlike these health and safety whistleblowers, environmental whistleblowers do have the right to appeal to an Administrative Law Judge. While this process is more fair for whistleblowers, it is still not as as just as jury trials.

On a similar note, Richard told the audience that federal National Security whistleblowers must bring their claims to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. This board rules against whistleblowers 99% of the time. The Federal Court of Appeals, the next level after the Merit Systems Protection Board, also has a bad record of upholding whistleblower rights.

Richard’s Advice on How to Prepare for a Career in Whistleblower Law:

  • Take employment discrimination classes in law school
  • Join the Unemployment Action Center:
  • Get trial practice in employment cases by working with the Department of Labor

Kiley Kane: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Immigration Litigation

On Wednesday, I took the metro to Judiciary Square to meet with immigration attorney Kiley Kane at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation. I kept my eyes open for Obama and Biden as I passed through the many levels of security (The offices of the soon-to-be president and vice president are located in the Department of Justice building during the presidential transition period). Unfortunately, there were no political sightings.

Ms. Kane is an appellate-level immigration attorney, which means that she writes briefs and appears on behalf of the Attorney General in oral arguments at the various federal circuit courts of appeals. Ms. Kane does not work directly with immigrants and asylum-seekers. Since petitioners are not called to testify during oral argument, Ms. Kane rarely meets the very people that she argues should be deported.

In one of her most interesting oral arguments, Ms. Kane defended the government against a man from Palestine who sought asylum (Asylum cases are one of the most common types of cases in immigration law). Since the U.S. does not recognize Palestine as a separate state, Ms. Kane was faced with the difficulty of persuading the judge to send the man back to nowhere. The case, an example of the foreign policy implications that often come into play during immigration trials, was sent back to trial court on a technicality.

From my interview with Ms. Kane, I learned that defending immigrants and asylum-seekers against the government is like playing a game of blackjack against the dealer. Considering that U.S. immigration laws favor the government and that the Department of Justice possesses considerable resources, government attorneys typically win 9 out of 10 immigration cases. Since the odds of winning an immigrant’s defense case are slight, fewer quality attorneys represent immigrants and asylum-seekers. This lack of qualified representation adds to the injustice that immigrants face when fighting against strict U.S. immigration laws.

Although it is more difficult to win cases, working as a defense attorney has its advantages. As opposed to government work, defense work offers attorneys variety and an opportunity to personally benefit from direct relationships with clients.

Essential Skills for an Immigration Attorney:

  • Attention to Detail. Immigration Law is so detailed that it is second only to tax law in terms of difficulty
  • Creativity. Since immigration laws are rigid, a defense attorney needs to be able to think of creative ways to make their client’s circumstances fit within a given law
  • People Skills. Essential for working as a defense attorney

Ms. Kane’s Advice on How to Prepare for a Career in Immigration Law:

  • Take immigration law and administrative law classes in law school
  • Participate in a clinic. Ms Kane learned that criminal law was not a good fit after she worked in a Public Defender’s clinic during law school and realized that she was unable to relate to the clientele
  • After law school, start out by working with the government to learn immigration law from a highly structured environment
The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Attended a forum hosted by the American Bar Association on how to make courts fair and impartial
  • Sat in on a Criminal Procedure class at Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law. Loved it! Law school is not as intimidating as people make it seem
  • Went to a two-hour LSAT strategy class
  • Saw Quantum of Solace

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Fall of the House of Poe

A highlight of my day trip to Philadelphia was visiting Edgar Allan Poe's "Spring Garden" house on North Seventh Street. "Spring Garden," the name of the cross street of Poe's home, is ironic. Although the title, "Spring Garden" connotes a neighborhood with white picket fences and manicured lawns, the brick home where Poe lived from 1843-1844 is now situated in a slum. The author's modest house is surrounded by decrepit apartments and trash. Besides his unfurnished home "maintained" by the National Park Service, all that remains of Poe is a mural on a run-down building and a misleading statue of a raven (Poe did not publish the famous poem until January of 1845, about a year after he moved from his Pennsylvania abode).

Why is a rented apartment where Poe lived for a year recognized as a national historic site? Poe was at the peak of his writing career while he lived in the small, two story building. During his stay at the Philadelphia house, Poe published some of his most famous stories such as "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."

Edgar Allan Poe invented the modern murder mystery. He was found dead in a gutter wearing strange clothes. Every year on the anniversary of his death, a cloaked man places a flower and alcohol on his grave. Like the author, Poe's house is shrouded in mystery. Always tight for money, Poe most likely sold all of his furnishings when he moved in 1844. The Park Service decided not to try and replicate what Poe's apartment might have looked like in the 1800s. Without furniture, visitors are forced to use their imagination to picture the setting where Poe lived with his young wife (and cousin) Virginia, his mother-in-law Maria, and his calico cat.

The most eerie room in the house, the basement, is said to be the inspiration for "The Black Cat,"a short story that also appeared in print during Poe's stay on Seventh Street. In the story, the narrator murders his wife and then places her corpse in a partially sealed chimney. Today, visitors can see the original chimney that may have triggered Poe's morbid imagination.

Surprising and uninviting, glossed over by most tourists, I am sure that Poe's mysterious apartment is "preserved" exactly as he would want.

The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Listened to a lecture by the former chief auditor of the U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Saw Betsy Ross' house, Constitution Hall, and the Liberty Bell
  • Ate my very first Philly cheesesteak sandwich ("wit" onions, of course)
  • Watched Obama win the 2008 presidential elections!
  • Salsa danced at Café Citron

George Washington: Man and Mansion

George Washington was about my age when he inherited Mount Vernon Estate from his half-brother Lawrence, who died of tuberculosis in 1752. The elegant Virginian estate that visitors tour today looks nothing like the humble house that Washington received after Lawrence's death. Although Washington only had the equivalent of an eighth grade education when the property fell into his hands, he immediately began planning ways to renovate his half-brother's ordinary country home. With the addition of two wings, a second and third story, a piazza, and a cupola, Washington transformed Lawrence's six-room farmhouse into a twenty-room mansion. Here, alongside the Potomac River, George and Martha Washington lived happily from their marriage in 1759 until Washington's death in 1799.

In Washington's era, men did the decorating. (They also danced. Perhaps I was born in the wrong century . . .) My tour of Mount Vernon began in the very dining room where Washington became America's first president, a job without a job description. The blue and sea foam green dining room, complete with a marble mantle and wooden candelabras, led to a columned piazza. After pausing to admire the scenic view of the Potomac from the porch, I continued to the piano room and guest room (also painted in blue and sea foam green . . . Washington's colors of choice, I guess). Next, I climbed the stairs to view the master bedroom, the only room that Martha decorated. Martha's decor was surprisingly stark in contrast to her husband's colorful designs. The bedroom, painted all white, was furnished with a simple desk and select pictures of grandchildren. Before exiting the mansion, I walked down the same stairs that Washington used to get to his private study every morning after awaking at 6 or 6:30 AM. Finally, I stopped at the kitchen, an open room separated from the estate. I was shocked to learn that burns were the second leading cause of death among women in the 18th century, as it was easy for their dresses to catch on fire while they cooked over an open flame. Washington's exterior and interior renovations were certainly a success: George and Martha had so many guests that the couple only ate unaccompanied once in 20 years.

You do not need the cherry tree myth to see that George Washington was a man of extraordinary integrity and talent. He was a farmer, an architect, a military general, a president, and a scholar. He increased the Mount Vernon plantation from 2,000 acres to 8,000 acres. He designed a 16-sided "trotting" barn for horses that revolutionized wheat production. He commanded Virginia's militia in the French and Indian War. He organized and led the Revolutionary Army. He served as the head of the Constitutional Convention. He set a precedent for future presidents by giving up his power as Commander in Chief after two terms.

Despite his numerous accomplishments on the battlefield and in political halls, George Washington felt most comfortable at the Virginian estate that he worked so hard to construct. In a letter, Washington wrote, "I had rather be at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the seat of government by the officers of state and the representatives of every power in Europe."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Nightmare on M Street

For Halloween, Washington, D.C. donned a mask and transformed itself from professional capital to party city.

The metro, usually full of government workers in business attire, was overrun by men in foam beer suits and women in corsets. Witches, devils, penguins, and grim reapers replaced lawyers and politicians. Newspapers, the choice reading material d
uring long metro commutes, were torn and wrapped around beer cans (There is a strict no food or beverage rule on the trains).

Costumed Washingtonians flocked to Georgetown, the hot spot for Halloween in D.C. Police closed the streets for "Nightmare on M Street," a club-hopping event on the main Georgetown drag. Mobs of people waiting to enter the bars made it impossible to move. Live musicians set up their gear on the street corner and filled the standstill crowds with Halloween spirit while simultaneously promoting Obama. I enjoyed people-watching in what is normally one of the classiest neighborhoods in D.C.

A Few Costume Trends: Sarah Palin, subprime mortgage lenders (Only in D.C. . . ), flappers, the Joker
My friend dressed as Abraham Lincoln . . . Simple, yet effective. Here are a few responses he received from D.C. dwellers:
  • "Hey, I have one of you in my pocket!" -A man shouting from his car
  • "That's not a rabbi, that's Abe!" -A man corrects his friend
  • "Lincoln! Our 14th President!" -A slightly intoxicated gentleman in Dupont Circle. My friend's response: "Actually, I'm the 16th president. But that's alright, buddy."
The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Toured the White House! President Bush was working just a floor above me in the Oval Office. I especially enjoyed the "Red Room."
  • Took a midterm in my criminal law class. Am learning to read and brief U.S. Supreme Court decisions that deal with Fifth Amendment rights.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Alexandria: Torpedos, Cloggers, and Ghosts

After a short trolley ride down King Street, my friends and I arrived in Old Town Alexandria.

Situated along the Potomac riverfront, this colonial town still retains its 18th century charm. I half-expected to see George Washington and Robert E. Lee, two famous Americans to call Alexandria home, chatting in one of the town's taverns or perusing through one of the many antique shops that line the quaint brick streets.

Alexandria's history begins with Scottish merchants and tobacco. In 1669, the Scotsman John Alexander paid an English ship captain six thousand pounds of tobacco in exchange for the land that would become Alexandria. With the help of Scottish businessmen William Ramsay and John Carlyle, the town of Alexandria was officially established in 1749. Because of its prime waterfront location, Alexandria served as an important export center for flour, hemp, and tobacco throughout the colonial, revolutionary, and Civil War periods. With its bubbling fountains and trees wrapped with white Christmas lights, visitors today would never guess that Alexandria was constantly plagued by war. In fact, the town functioned as a hospital and supply center during the American Revolution. George Washington trained his militia at Market Square in 1754. English generals gathered at John Carlyle's house in 1755 to discuss the French and Indian War. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the town was immediately occupied by Union forces.

Our first stop in this historic town was the Torpedo Factory, a U.S. munitions factory constructed during World War I and used during World War II. Ironically, the former torpedo factory is now a three-story art gallery complete with studios and art demonstrations. One studio featured clay pots with miniature scenes visible only through tiny openings. Another studio displayed enormous stainless steel sculptures. My favorite sculpture: A seven foot steel "bageloid" (the artist's term to describe the sculpture's unique shape) entitled, "Fully Rounded Lust." Very dramatic.

A clogging competition was underway as we exited the Torpedo Factory. Performers decked out in Davy Crockett-style raccoon hats, strips of brightly colored cloth, and jingling bells danced to the tune of a recorder, a piccolo, rain sticks, and
an accordion.

Our 6 PM ghost tour, the highlight of the day, mixed historical fact with haunted tales. Sporting a bonnet and a lantern, our guide led us first to the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary shop where Martha Washington requested a bottle of the finest castor oil just days before her death. Our guide proceeded to tell us of two murders that occurred in the shop during a poker game gone awry. Apparently, the noises of the dead hitting the floor have been heard on several occasions by tourists and employees alike. Next, we walked past the peach-colored Athenaeum and stopped at a house that may have hid slaves as part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. Rumor has it that when a particular closet door is closed, three distinct voices can be heard singing a Negro spiritual. Finally, we paused outside Gadspy's Tavern, where George Washington had his first birthday ball. According to colonial gossip, George Washington's illegitimate child, "the female stranger," may have died in the inn that adjoins the tavern.

At the end of the tour, our guide deposited us at John Carlyle's house to se
e a re-enactment of his funeral. We paid our respects to Carlyle's family, viewed his 18th century coffin, and grabbed a sprig of rosemary to keep away the evil spirits. At 8 PM, as we walked to the metro to journey back to the 21st century, we observed more people in colonial attire than in present day clothing.

The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Carved Obama's face into a pumpkin!
  • Watched Halloween for the first time . . .
  • Listened to a talk by Stephen J. Hughes (Secret Service Special Agent in Charge), who has protected the Clinton and Bush families

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Playboy and the First Amendment

This week I found myself on the 7th floor of the D.C. Newseum, eating shrimp, crab cakes, and strawberry shortcake at a party hosted by the Playboy Foundation.

Attending the Playboy event was an unexpected work assignment. Along with three of my co-workers from the National Whistleblower Center and an attorney from the law firm Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, I joined a crowd of journalists, elected officials, and civil rights activists at the 2008 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards.

Minus the alcohol and cuisine catered by Wolfgang Puck, the event was nothing like an episode of The Girls Next Door. There were no bunny suits or bikinis. The only Hefner at the ceremony was Christie, Hugh's daughter and the CEO of Playboy Enterprises. Christie Hefner created the First Amendment Awards in 1979 to recognize individuals who fight to protect our First Amendment freedoms. The bold filmmaker Michael Moore received the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in 1999.

Classy in a tan dress and matching shoes, Christie began the evening by introducing this year's award winners, three individuals selected out of a pool of 60 nominees. Christie said, "These winners have shown extraordinary commitment to preserving the First Amendment rights of all Americans . . . Their example is an inspiration to everyone who cares about the fundamental civil rights on which our democracy is based." She ended her introduction with a wink, saying, "First Amendment rights . . . Use 'em or lose 'em."

Here are the three recipients of the 2008 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award:
  • A whistleblower! Mark Klein discovered a secret room at AT&T's office in San Francisco and unraveled the ploy between AT&T and the National Security Agency to intercept billions of Internet communications. Klein spoke out against this illegal government spying operation. His information was featured on PBS/Frontline, ABC Nightline, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. In his acceptance speech, Klein emphasized the complete lack of support that he received from the U.S. Congress.
  • A high school student! With the help of the ACLU, senior Heather Gillman sued her high school principal for prohibiting students to wear or display symbols supporting gay and lesbian rights.
  • A public advocate and college campus lecturer! Greg Lukianoff received the very first $25,000 Freedom of Expression Award. He is the president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education- What an acronym).
Fun Fact: In 1986, the American Council of the Blind went to court claiming that the Library of Congress violated the First Amendment rights of blind people by eliminating Braille editions of the Playboy magazine. The Council argued that withholding $103,000 in library funds, the exact amount of money needed to produce 1,000 copies of the Playboy magazine in Braille, was unconstitutional. What a scandal for a Playboy magazine without pictures . . .

The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Went salsa dancing with a group of Washington Center Students from Mexico at the hip Latin club Café Citron
  • Sipped a café au lait and sampled a caramel apple plate at Tryst, a crowded coffee shop in Adams Morgan with excellent desserts
  • Learned to make mushroom risotto!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oral Argument at the U.S. Supreme Court

This Monday, the first Monday in October, signaled the beginning of the U.S. Supreme Court term. On Wednesday, I joined the lines of people waiting at the Supreme Court steps to listen to oral argument for the employee rights case Crawford V. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

The public began lining up for the 1 PM oral argument at 9:30 AM. As I waited in line, I was entertained by a group of silent protesters, their mouths sealed with pieces of tape that read, "Life." I watched as members of the Navy were whisked away in black cars after arguing that sonar used in Southern California Naval exercises did not present significant harm to whales.

At 11 AM, when a police officer announced that only the first 25 people in line would be admitted to the 1 PM oral argument, the crowd panicked. A man in front of me tattled on a group ahead of him that had saved spots in line for friends. He left enraged after the police officer told him that he could do nothing to reprimand the spot-savers. Luckily, around 12:45 PM, the police officer led a larger-than-normal group into the Supreme Court. After passing through security and placing all my belongings in a locker, I filed into the curtained courtroom.

The Case: Vicky Crawford, an employee of the Metropolitan School District for 30 years, participated in an internal investigation of her employer. Her employer, one of the highest ranking officials in the school district, was investigated after several female employees expressed concern about sexual harassment. When questioned, Crawford told the investigator that she was sexually harassed by her boss. As soon as the investigator's report was released, Crawford was fired. Crawford's attorneys argued that Crawford's cooperation with the unofficial investigation was protected under Title VII (Section 704(a)) of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Metropolitan Government countered that employees are only protected against retaliation when charges are formally filed with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). According to the Metropolitan Government, Crawford did not actively "oppose" her employer's sexual harassment. Opposition is a crucial clause in Title VII. After losing her appeal at the U.S. States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear Crawford's case.

The Oral Argument: In oral argument, each lawyer has 30 minutes to make their case. I was surprised to learn that oral argument is structured more as a question and answer session than as a typical courtroom procedure in which attorneys state their key points after making opening and closing statements. In the argument that I attended, the lawyers barely spoke for a minute before they were drilled by the nine Supreme Court Justices. Specifics of the case were not addressed. Instead, the Justices asked hypothetical questions to get a feel for the precedent they will set based on their decision. The Crawford case
also illustrated that my English Literature major matters. The main conflict between both sides centered on the connotations of the word, "opposition." (Lawyers debated whether the opposition clause of Title VII applies to Crawford. One side said that she opposed her employer's sexual harassment by simply telling him to get out of her office. The other side said that the definition of the word "oppose" calls for action. It is not enough to participate in an internal investigation. Crawford should have filed official charges.) The Justices were animated during the argument. The most poignant comments came from Justices Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer. Except for Justice Scalia, notorious for his outspokenness and extremely Conservative beliefs, the Justices seemed to support Crawford.

The Process: The Supreme Court only hears about 100 of the 10,000 petitions filed each term. Before hearing an argument, the Justices read through all legal briefs so that they are familiar with the case and the legal positions of each party. During an argument week, Justices hold private conferences and take a preliminary vote on the case. The Justices then select someone in the majority to write an opinion. Once the draft opinion is agreed upon by all the Justices in the majority, the decision is announced in a court session. There is no set deadline for when the Justices must reach a decision. All cases argued, however, are decided before the summer recess begins.

Fun Facts about the U.S. Supreme Court: These are some fascinating facts from my new Pocket Constitution (Yes, I bought a pocket constitution! Now I will be aware of my rights everywhere I go):

  • The Supreme Court had no docket and made no decisions during its first term in 1790. When the U.S. capital moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800, the Supreme Court did not even have a courtroom. Congress provided a small committee room in the basement of the Capitol, where the Court stayed until the Civil War.
  • Justice Byron White is the only Justice inducted in the Football Hall of Fame.
  • Jimmy Carter is the only president to serve a full term without nominating a Supreme Court justice.
  • Thomas Jefferson broke the tradition of justices wearing wigs.
The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Took a 4-hour practice LSAT through Kaplan. Brutal
  • Went tango dancing at the West End Library
  • Climbed to the top of the Old Post Office to see the view of D.C.
  • Listened to a lecture by Jim Clyburn, the Majority Whip for the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Ate Malaysian food at a restaurant in Dupont Circle
  • Visited Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Wonderful selection of wax political figures

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Whistleblowers: Don't Shoot the Messenger

Before starting my internship at Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, a D.C. law firm that specializes in whistleblower law, my knowledge of whistleblowers was limited to what I had seen in an episode of Arrested Development. In the episode entitled "Whistler's Mother," Michael (Jason Bateman) receives a large amount of money to invest on behalf of his real estate company. Pestered by his corrupt family to use the money illegally, Michael passes out whistles to all of the company board members and urges them to "blow the whistle" when they witness someone breaking company policy. The board members love blowing the whistles so much that they look for every opportunity to accuse a fellow co-worker of wrongdoing. Tired of all the racket, Michael demands the return of the whistles a mere 20 minutes later. The message? Whistleblowers are obnoxious tattletales.

Is this television depiction of whistleblowers correct? Who are whistleblowers? A study conducted in 2006 reported that the average whistleblower is a family man in his forties with high moral values. Whistleblowers speak out against illegal activity in the workplace. They report crimes ranging from Medicare fraud to environmental contamination to the mishandling of evidence by the FBI Crime Lab. As a result of their disclosures, whistleblowers often face retaliation by their employers. They lose their jobs and their homes. They go bankrupt. They file for divorce. They seek psychiatric or physical care. Because of the extreme amount of stress that whistleblowers experience, any attorney will tell you that whistleblower clients are some of the most difficult to work with on a case.

Fun fact: The False Claims Act, perhaps the most effective piece of whistleblower legislation ever passed, was introduced by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. During the Civil War, contractors sold the government weak mules, faulty guns, bad ammunition, and rotten provisions. To prevent this kind of fraud against the government, Lincoln created the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act, also known as the "Lincoln Law," allows individuals to sue fraudulent contractors or companies on behalf of the government. The Qui tam provision of this law permits the relator (a legal term for the person representing the government) to recover a portion of the money awarded in a successful lawsuit. The possibility of award money provides incentive for whistleblowers to report criminal activity at work.

A Few Famous Whistleblowers:
  • Daniel Ellsburg: Leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret account of the Vietnam War, to The New York Times in 1971.
  • Linda Tripp: A former White House staff member who revealed that Bill Clinton committed perjury for denying his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.
  • Frederic Whitehurst: The first modern-day FBI whistleblower. He reported serious flaws in the FBI laboratory as well as the faulty analytical methods used in investigations for the Oklahoma City bombing case and the World Trade Center bombing case.
  • Cynthia Cooper, Sherry Watkins: Exposed corporate scandals at WorldCom and Enron. Named Time Magazine's People of the Year in 2002.
  • Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse: Exposed illegal no-bid Halliburton contracts for reconstruction in Iraq.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Visit with F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald's name is synonymous with flappers, jazz, and bootlegged liquor. The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's tragic tale of The Roaring Twenties, is read every year by high schoolers across the nation. Ironically, the grave of this famous American author is tucked away in a small, unknown cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. The epitome of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald now lies amidst long grasses and statues of Catholic saints. Except for a pile of coins and a quote from the The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's tombstone is indistinguishable from all the other graves in Saint Mary's Cemetery.

Like so many of the characters in his novels and short stories, Fitzgerald lived fast and died young. A heavy drinker, Fitzgerald suffered a fatal heart attack at age 44. Now, in his plot adjacent to St. Mary's Catholic Church, the famous American author has achieved a kind of peace that he never could attain in life.

It is fitting that the last line of The Great Gatsby ("So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past") is etched onto Fitzgerald's tombstone. The story of Fitzgerald's funeral is almost as odd as Jay Gatsby's fictional funeral. Fitzgerald never lived in Maryland. The writer's father, who chose to be buried at St. Mary's when he died, had relatives in Montgomery County that Fitzgerald visited frequently as a child. After Fitzgerald's death in 1940, his remains were shipped from Hollywood, California to Maryland. Like Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald was buried in the rain and only a small group of family and friends attended the funeral. It is also rumored that during the service, a friend of Fitzgerald's exclaimed,"The poor son of a bitch." This is a famous line from Gatsby's funeral. Fitzgerald was initially buried at the Rockville Union Cemetery. Since he was not a practicing Catholic at the time of his death, St. Mary's Church would not allow Fitzgerald to be buried alongside his father. Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, died in a sanitarium fire in 1948 and was placed with Fitzgerald in a common grave. Finally, in 1958, Fitzgerald and Zelda's only daughter lobbied to have the bodies moved to St. Mary's Cemetery. 15 members of the Fitzgerald family can be found at St. Mary's Cemetery today.

The Rest of The Week at a Glance:
  • Attended a graduate school fair at Georgetown University
  • Tango danced on the second floor of the West End Library
  • Went on a night walk to look at the floodlit Lincoln and World War II Memorials
  • Ate pizza at Paradiso, one of the best pizzerias in Georgetown. Worth the 45 minute wait for a table. From my seat by the window, I watched passersby while savoring my "Siciliana" pizza (Eggplant, zucchini, peppers, capers, and pecorino. Yum!)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hughes' Hangout

At Busboys and Poets, hippies, college students, and political activists drink pomegranate lemonade and snap their fingers as a contestant from South Africa performs a song about water for the monthly slam poetry contest. A woman closes her eyes and compares listening to jazz with having sex. A man with dreadlocks recites a piece about his grandmother. Until 1:30 AM, the crowded Langston Hughes performance lounge oozes with rhythm and rhyme as poetry contestants tackle subjects ranging from feminism to racism.

Busboys and Poets is a
restaurant, bar, library, and performance lounge located on U Street, the Harlem of Washington, D.C. In fact, Duke Ellington played his first paid gig at a jazz hall on 12th and U Street. The famous Ben's Chili Bowl is just steps away from the U Street metro stop.

The Busboys and Poets performance room is named after Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at The Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest D.C. before he gained recognition as a poet. As the story goes, Hughes left a few sheets of verse for a diner as he was clearing dishes. The customer, who happened to be a well-known poet, told newspapers the next morning that he discovered a genius among the kitchen staff.

This Hughes-inspired room is plastered with pictures of Bob Marley, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Three signs centered on the stage read, "Waiting, Watching, Dreaming." During poetry readings and competitions, the room is so crowded that strangers share tables and people sit two to a seat, a sign that Busboys and Poets succeeded in their mission to create "an environment where shared conversations over food and drink allow the progressive, artistic and literary communities to dialogue, educate and interact."

The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Went to the Korean Embassy to celebrate Chusok, the Korean Thanksgiving. There were so many people that the police came to make sure the fire safety rules were not violated.
  • Visited the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art, and the Air and Space Museum, where I watched an IMAX movie on fighter pilots.
  • Went to the free Arts Festival at the Kennedy Center and listened to Academy Award nominee Lila Downs. Also saw Julieta Venegas, one of my favorite Mexican artists, at a free 6 PM concert at the Kennedy Center.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Adams Morgan: All That Jazz

Ethnic restaurants, Latino craft markets, quirky murals, vintage clothing shops, record stores, and bars with live jazz are packed into just a few blocks on 18th St NW and Columbia Rd NW. Adams Morgan, one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., attracts such crowds that the nightlife in this tiny neighborhood is on par with the dining and bar scene in the elite Dupont Circle and Georgetown areas.

The very name "Adams Morgan," which combines the titles of two formerly segregated schools in the area (the all-black Thomas P. Morgan Elementary School and the all-white John Quincy Adams Elementary School), reflects the unity of different races and cultures apparent on the main street. American diners stand next to Ethiopian restaurants and buildings featuring cuisine from Ghana. New Orleans style soul food is surrounded by Italian pizzerias, French cafes, Peruvian restaurants, and Mexican taquerías.

During my trip to Adams Morgan I tried on a polka dot dress at one of the vintage shops, ate chicken palak at an Indian restaurant, and listened to blues music at a popular bar called Madam's Organ (Their motto: "Where the Beautiful People go to get Ugly"). I loved Madam Organ's eclectic decor. A stuffed goat hung next to a rusted trombone and a comedic sign read, "Looking for a man who can dance . . ." (I particularly identify with this one).

The Rest of the Week at a Glance:
  • Went on a walking tour of Georgetown. At the end of M street, I Saw the famous stairs that the priest hurled himself over in The Exorcist. Fun fact: The 75 stone steps were padded with 1/2 "-thick rubber during the filming of the movie and the stunt man fell down the stairs twice. Students from Georgetown charged onlookers $5 each to watch the feat from rooftops. Also saw Georgetown University, which looks more like a castle than a school (Picture attached).
  • Listened to the National Symphonic Orchestra play on the Capitol Hill Lawn. The setting was very picturesque, as the stage framed the Washington Monument and the massive Capitol Building stood on the other side of the lawn.
  • Sampled paella and listened to "Take the 'A' Train" at a jazz festival in Rockville Square.
  • Barbecued for Labor Day

Friday, August 29, 2008

City Savvy

After a chance encounter with a US senator during my layover in Denver, I boarded the plane to D.C. and arrived at my apartment complex in Rockville, Maryland around 7 PM. My fourth floor, four-person apartment is surrounded by a town square complete with cobblestone streets, white Christmas lights, restaurants, shops, and a movie theater (Pictures above). The nearest metro station (Rockville Station on the red line) is a ten minute walk from my apartment and the closest grocery store is about 15 minutes away (walking back from the supermarket with bags of groceries presents its challenges).

My roommates and I left the apartment around 7:45 the next morning to make the 45-minute commute to D.C. for program orientation. There are a total of 400 interns enrolled in the Washington Center program and many students are visiting from other countries (South Korea, Brazil, and Mexico to name a few). I met with my fellow Law and Criminal Justice interns at orientation and then grabbed a quick lunch and headed to the Smithsonian Natural History museum (Have you ever seen the skull of a Diceratops?). Next, a group of us walked to the Lincoln Memorial and later tried to familiarize ourselves with the metro system.

Already, I realize how much I enjoy living in a big city. I love having breweries, pizzerias, clothes stores, and pharmacies right at my doorstep. I love people watching and reading the newspaper on long metro trips. I love the sound of cars and sirens outside my window at night.

D.C. Observations:
1. Everyone uses umbrellas (This is considered taboo in Oregon). Even the slightest drizzle prompts a Washingtonian to whip out their umbrella on the city streets.
2. People that stand on the left side of the escalator instead of the right side are trampled.
3. Everything is expensive. A one-week metro pass with unlimited rides, for example, costs $40. A one-way trip from Rockville to downtown D.C. costs over $4.
4. Everyone dresses up. I have never seen so many people in business suits in my life.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Political Beginning

This Wednesday I leave for Washington, D.C. to intern for Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, a law firm that specializes in whistleblower law (protecting employees who speak out against wrongdoing in the workplace). I will also take a class on criminal law through my program, The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC).

I hope to become more politically aware during my stay in D.C. Ironically, I have a layover in Denver in the midst of the Democratic National Convention and will be on the lookout for Obama and Clinton. I already registered for my absentee ballot and am excited to watch the elections unfold firsthand from Washington.

With graduation creeping up in May, I am trying to figure out what to do with my English Literature major . . . Will the law suit me? Stay tuned for my adventures in the office and the city!