The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion This downtown D.C. clash over noise has everything

5 min

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In this week’s edition:

This ultra-loud street musician rules downtown

Who owns the commons of a city? More specifically, who owns the sonic commons? Erik Wemple’s own ear was caught by a passing line in coverage of the prospective decision by Washington Wizards and Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis to move the teams out of downtown D.C. to the relative peace and quiet of Virginia: Leonsis was “particularly bothered by buskers, who played loud music outside his office.”

Erik discovered the problem was really one particular act — a man named David Halmon, who performs with two young and talented kids at top volume outside the arena. Though appreciated by visiting fans, his incredibly loud music pervades the entire area, to the point where a restaurant has had to offer discounts to deafened guests, a homeowner has spent thousands on soundproofing and the Leonsis team has funded a more organized busker program for the area — all to no avail. The city, meanwhile, has been reluctant to intervene: “The message from D.C. government is to go right ahead and monopolize public space with strepitous tunes,” Erik writes.

What you have, in other words, is an urban story with everything: adorable pint-size rappers, angry go-go music boosters, jolly hockey fans, frustrated sports team executives, a performer so loud that noise complaints follow him even to Ocean City in the summer — and a city that just might lose two beloved teams to the burbs. Erik, with amazing photos by Tom Brenner, captures the whole divisive scene.

Chaser: The Editorial Board spent a whole year looking at how to animate moribund downtown areas — including a cool interactive look at one surprising U.S. city doing it right.

Life as an undercover Trump juror

Picture this: You, a normal American, get picked to serve on a jury in a case where the defendant is seen as so likely to mobilize an army of supporters against you that lawyers, reporters, your fellow jurors and even the judge do not know your real name. You are instructed not to tell anyone, even your own family, that you are serving on the case. On days you serve, you will be “picked up at a series of undisclosed locations and then driven to the court and brought in through the underground garage.”

I wish I could tell you that’s the satirical part of Alexandra Petri’s latest column, but no, that’s the news setup before the satire starts, and it regards a case against the leading Republican candidate for president this year. Donald Trump, who has already been found liable for the sexual assault and defamation of writer E. Jean Carroll in an earlier trial, is back in court for separate remarks he made about her. Alex imagines what it’s like to be in this bizarro and very secret world, including the pressure to choose a strong code name. (Uh, “Mike Pence”?)

From Josh Rogin’s column on how House Republicans are tying Ukraine aid to the lead balloon that is far-right border policy, effectively preventing any progress on either in the run-up to the election.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is a leader on this strategy, backed by MAGA-minded representatives dedicated to undermining President Biden and seeing Trump — who reminded voters this week that he and Ukraine invader Vladimir Putin “get along fine” and says he would have the war ironed out in a jiffy — back in the White House. But not all House Republicans agree that this is the way forward. As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) told Josh: “If we abandon our NATO allies and surrender to Putin in Ukraine, it’s not going to make the world safer, it’s going to make the world more dangerous. … [Ronald] Reagan would never have surrendered to the Soviet Union. Maybe that’s a shift in our party.”

Meanwhile, as Gene Robinson and Catherine Rampell both point out, House Republicans are basically pretending to want an immigration bill while actually declining to pass anything that could help Biden. “Rather than resolve a telegenic crisis, Republicans apparently plan to keep it going to mobilize their base ahead of the election,” Catherine writes.

Or as one GOP member of Congress quoted by Gene said recently about a possible border deal under Biden, “I will not help the Democrats try to improve this man’s dismal approval ratings. I’m not going to do it. Why would I?”

Chaser: The showdown is a perfect example of what’s behind the dynamic that Fareed Zakaria recently observed at Davos — namely, that all eyes are on the U.S. election.

Smartest, fastest

It’s a goodbye. It’s a haiku. It’s … The Bye-Ku.

The loudest songs play

To arena crowds, until

The court is empty


Have your own newsy haiku? Email it to me, along with any questions/comments/compliments/complaints. Enjoy the weather, and see you next week!