Sex, Lies and Videotape

When I was thinking of a title for a blog post on my summer work in Washington, D.C., I could not think of anything more fitting to my short time as an intern than Sex, Lies and Videotape (although videotape may be a bit antiquated). The world of an aging intern can be pretty wild.

Does the title  actually bear any relationship to my internship?  No, it does not. Not even in some remote, metaphorical way.

Sex, Lies and Videotape is the title of a 1989 independent film by Steven Sodenberg. The Library of Congress considers the film to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” I’m not so sure about all of that (or why the LOC chose “or” instead of “and” for a coordinating conjunction) – I have yet to see the film, but thanks to Wikipedia I now know all that. Really, I liked the title because it’s got an evocative quality that sounds much more interesting than “my summer internship.”

Moving on from that aside (and what an aside it was), I would like to tell you about my internship. At the last moment, I got an internship with a nonprofit, Enterprise Community Partners, that helps develop affordable homes and sustainable communities throughout the country. I work in their policy department under the direction of the director of government affairs. In sum, the position is a good fit.

However, on my first day on the job, I was informed that I was there to leverage my “expertise” for their transportation portfolio. Specifically, the organization’s recent foray into the development of transit-oriented development (TOD) – the development of mixed-use development around transportation nodes. While I was apprised of this role when I was interviewing, I was also hoping to move more into housing policy and away from the ghetto of transportation policy. But it appears my accidental past in the world of transportation will continue to haunt. No need for alarm, however. I enjoy transit policy especially when coupled with development.

As most sentient beings in vibrant urban areas (like Durham but think a little bigger) can tell you, however, the cost of living in a city, especially one with good transportation (like Durham but real) is often quite expensive. With the rebirth of American cities has come the concomitant wave of gentrification and displacement, as areas become more attractive – especially around transit hubs – incumbent families, and even communities, are often unable to afford to remain. Accordingly, my goal – and that of my organization’s – is to ensure ample affordable housing near existing and future development of areas near transportation hubs.

Now, how does this all work in the practical world.  This is where I am somewhat familiar and what I am trying to work on. Putting aside the housing end of the spectrum, which I am learning, there has been a major move afoot to incorporate sustainable housing development in the authorizing legislation for national transportation. This major authorizing bill for transportation is immensely important for setting transportation policy and provides contractors and transportation agencies with the money to develop long-term transportation projects. As a result, the transportation bill has an immense impact on employment and is often rightfully considered a jobs bill. As America faces down a jobs crisis and operates on a decaying infrastructure system that delegitimizes its economic competitiveness it would seem only natural that this bill would pass, right? Well, that ain’t the case.

The previous bill, called Safetea-Lu – in part, named after the author’s late wife  – expired in 2009 and has been extended innumerable times on a short-term basis. For an industry predicated on long-term development and fiscal certainty, short-term extensions undermine the entire process and leave millions of workers idle. Not a good thing.

Currently, I am following the latest iteration of the transportation bill, MAP-21. The Senate passed a two-year authorizing bill, which would be considered pretty poor by normal standards. But in a world of stupidity and  diminishing expectations, the two year bill is actually pretty good for a variety of reasons. In contrast, the House has only passed another extension. When I first arrived in town I learned that the bills were being reconciled in the parlance of legislative argot. Although I had not followed this process during my time at school, I told a colleague that I gave the bill about a zero percent chance of passing. I have watched this boring psychodrama before – the Republican House cannot produce a bill, and it’s an election year, which means nothing of substance will happen. So I was pleased in my powers of self prediction when I read in this morning’s newspaper that John Boehner wants another extension –a pretty defeatist position to take while your comrades are supposedly in conference trying to produce a final bill. I should probably use my prescience in more useful ways, such as scratch off lotto tickets, but that might be an abuse of my powers.

More pointedly, I am actually working on a specific issue related to the transportation authorization. But, as I learned some time ago, keeping your mouth shut when trying to do something and not posting it on the internets is the way to go. So I will not be sharing with you what exactly I am doing.

But, more importantly, it is getting late and it’s Friday. I am drinking a beer on my amazing porch in the best neighborhood in Washington, D.C.,  – Mt. Pleasant – where I know live (lots of  people with tote bags; I call them tote-baggers. Kinda the polar opposite of their so-called tea party breathren). So I will bid you adieu as I enjoy the sunset in my first weekend at my new place. I have been living on couches for some time, so I intend to relax a bit. I might just rent Sex, Lies and Videotape at the local rental store, which has VHS tapes, mind you.

Classic Tote-bagger in all his ironic splendor- beware.

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