With Charlie Harper
Want to hear some more about Donald Trump, Robert Mueller and Bob Barr? If not, how about the symbol of several actual lawsuits against Trump, his family and his company? That would be the Trump International Hotel, situated on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC between 11th and 12th streets. In this location, it is just about midway between the US capitol and the White House, where the hotel’s owner presently resides. Trump’s Washington showcase is also near the much more famous Willard Hotel and the flagship J W Marriott Hotel, named after the distinguished chain’s founder. The Trump hotel occupies “the old post office building,” a 130-year-old structure whose bell tower is the third highest structure in Washington.
The building was originally commissioned as the headquarters for the US Postal Service. But by the 1960s, the building and its immediate neighbourhood had fallen into disrepair. Redevelopment along Pennsylvania Avenue started under President Lyndon Johnson and continues to this day. The post office building followed along, viewed alternately as a white elephant or a symbol of urban renaissance for five decades. One of Donald Trump’s companies was picked in 2012 to redevelop the property as a luxury hotel. The bidding and award processes were controversial. But just one week before the November 2016 American general election, the Trump International Hotel staged its grand opening.
The hotel has been as controversial as its owner. Panned by Vanity Fair as a dump inside its ornate outer shell but praised by Trip Advisor and others, the hotel is reportedly doing a brisk business under the direction of a trust headed by Trump’s two adult sons.
The hotel itself is neither garish nor superficially offensive in any way. A welcoming doorman respectfully opens the heavy wooden doors for visitors, who enter the vast interior eight-storey high courtyard protected by a thick transparent roof. The courtyard now houses reception, a tasteful bar, restaurant and expansive space to relax and chat. A friendly concierge explained the original, highly visible steel girders still support the building. Old stairwells and elevator lobbies have been carefully restored, she said. A very democratic mix of people enjoyed themselves, with tourists and elegantly attired partygoers comfortably sharing the space.
Trump opponents and government ethicists raised an uproar about the hotel from the moment some of his inaugural events were held there. The director of the Office of U.S. Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub, wrote that Trump’s divestment “plan does not comport with the traditions of our presidents over the past 40 years. Every president in modern times has taken the strong medicine of divestiture.”
In June 2017, the attorneys general of the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia sued the president on the basis of the U.S. constitution’s emoluments clause which forbids presidents from profiting personally from their office. Other states have taken similar action. Is Trump’s behaviour toward his hotel illegal or just different from his predecessors? The courts will let us know, in due time.
Times are finally changin’
As the 2020 Year of the Woman approaches in the U.S., preparations are underway to commemorate 100 years of American women’s right to vote. Six Democratic women, including four senators, are already running for president. One of them, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, is running on an avowedly feminist platform. The American women’s soccer team, three-time World Cup winners and perhaps the world’s preeminent women’s athletic squad, has sued the U.S. soccer authority for equal pay with their male counterparts, whose achievements pale by comparison but who make more than twice as much in salary. America’s oldest college acapella singing group, the Yale Whiffenpoofs, have admitted their first female member for next year, 52 years after the university first admitted women as undergraduates. And by the way, the most powerful American legislator, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has said President Donald Trump “is not worth impeaching.” It’s not the same old, same old.
Who will make the final four?
If you like betting on favourites in the annual NCAA college basketball tournament nicknamed March Madness, you’re in clover this year. Of the last 16 teams still playing, an astounding 14 were originally seeded to advance this far. One of the other two teams, Auburn, rated a 5 seed so it hardly counts as an outlier. Only 12 seed Oregon is truly an exception. Advancement to this point wasn’t easy for everyone, though. Duke just squeaked by a Central Florida team anchored by a player who stands seven and a half feet tall. Tennessee and LSU had close calls, too. As the field is reduced this weekend from the sweet 16 to the final four, number one seeded Duke and North Carolina look like strong bets to advance. It says here, though, that 3 seed Purdue will prevail in the South regional and 4 seed Florida State will advance to the finals in Minneapolis from the West regional.
• Nearly everyone who follows the NBA is buzzing about the Los Angeles Lakers, but it’s for the wrong reasons. The Lakers won’t make the playoffs this year, and will likely replace their coach after the season. One of America’s glamorous pro sports franchises, the team has in its history featured George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Pat Riley, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and now, Lebron James. James has played in the NBA finals for the past eight years, but he will be sitting at home when the 2019 postseason begins next month. The reason is that beyond James, the team had insufficient depth to survive its injuries this year. It’s all about 2020 in LA, with numerous high-profile additions likely soon.
After ruling the world, Blockbuster down to its final show
Remember Blockbuster? Fifteen years ago, the video rental giant had franchised 9,100 stores and employed 84,000 people. South Florida billionaire business mogul Wayne Huizenga, who at one point or another owned the Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers major league franchises in football, baseball and hockey, co-owned Blockbuster. He also founded Fortune 500 companies Waste Management and AutoNation. Huizenga died in Fort Lauderdale just a year ago. But Blockbuster may now be just about to follow Huizenga out the door: The second-to-last remaining franchise, in West Morley, Australia, will close this week. That will leave the very last store in Bend, Oregon, a city of 76,000 on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains with a very large service area for video rentals. Situated in a strip mall near a cannabis retailer and a pet crematorium, this last Blockbuster has a seven-day rental policy and no plans to close anytime soon.