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Archive: January 2008

Move 'Em On, Head 'Em Up: Herding Immigrants in Va.

RICHMOND Move 'em on, head 'em up, Head 'em up, move 'em on The herd in question consists of bills -- bills aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants, bills being corralled through the gates of the Virginia legislature. You can just about hear the theme song from the classic TV western "Rawhide" as these bills, dozens and dozens of them, move through the House Rules Committee at a rate of about one every three minutes. Rollin', rollin', rollin' Debate? Who needs it? Votes? A quick muttering of "yea" does the trick. Hardly anyone at a committee meeting this week...

By Marc Fisher | January 31, 2008; 7:10 AM ET | Comments (29)

Blogger of the Month: Richmond Sunlight

The state of Virginia's online coverage of its own legislature's annual session in Richmond wasn't doing it for Waldo Jaquith. So instead of griping and ranting about the inadequacies of the official site, as most bloggers might, Jaquith put aside his own popular Virginia politics blog and devoted his nights and weekends to creating the most wonderful tool any state government could ever wish for. Richmond Sunlight, the result of Jaquith's many hundreds of hours of programming wizardry and editorial sense, is an encyclopedic, non-partisan baedeker to the happenings in the state capital, with a light touch, a bit...

By Marc Fisher | January 30, 2008; 7:49 AM ET | Comments (9)

Preservation Police: Lock The Doors!

On a March day in 2003, staffers from the D.C. historic preservation office arrived at Laura Elkins' and John Robbins' house accompanied by D.C. police. The visitors had a warrant to search the house. "The officials went throughout the home (including the bedrooms of sick children home from school), opening drawers, observing, and taking photos," says a new opinion by federal court Judge Rosemary Collyer. Elkins' daughter, then 14 and suffering with a high fever, hid under the covers while the police searched her room. When Elkins' son, then 17, tried to eat breakfast, city inspectors ordered him to...

By Marc Fisher | January 29, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (21)

Schools Monday: Not-So-Liberal Teachers

Teachers, of course, are classic liberals, right? After all, consider the politics of teachers' unions, the trendiness of curricula and the generally left-leaning nature of academia. Well, maybe not. A fascinating new analysis comparing the social and political attitudes of teachers against those of other Americans finds teachers to be rather more conservative than the rest of the country in several important ways. Teachers make up the largest group of Americans in any one line of work, about 3.5 million people teaching kids in primary and secondary schools. Despite the vast changes in the nation's workforce over the past...

By Marc Fisher | January 28, 2008; 7:32 AM ET | Comments (0)

Illegal Immigrant, Illegal Driver?

On most matters related to illegal immigration, where you stand depends on whether you think we're being overrun by criminals or undermined by anti-foreigner hysteria. The battle over driver's licenses in Maryland is different. There are people who deeply believe illegal immigrants are a threat to our way of life and who nonetheless support the notion that every driver on the road ought to be licensed. After all, those of us who shell out big bucks for car insurance know that every unlicensed, uninsured driver is taking money out of our paychecks. But Maryland's highways will soon gain tens of...

By Marc Fisher | January 27, 2008; 7:22 AM ET | Comments (41)

Orpheus Puts Down His Lyre (No More Records)

Middle-aged man walks in to price a first-edition vinyl Bob Dylan album. Young woman collects a John Prine LP for her father. Longtime customer and vinyl enthusiast browses the latest rock reissues. And then, in a busy midday hour at Orpheus Records in Clarendon, the phone rings: It's the landlord, and the news is good -- sort of. Orpheus, already displaced from Georgetown in 1999 after a couple of decades there, is still going to lose its storefront on Wilson Boulevard, but the date of execution may be delayed. Owner Rick Carlisle greets the news with a shake of the...

By Marc Fisher | January 26, 2008; 7:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

Metro to Dulles: What Next?

The warning signs had been there for many months, yet few could bring themselves to predict that the feds would drop the big one on the most expensive public works project in the history of the Washington area, the extension of Metro to Dulles International Airport. But that's just what the Federal Transit Administration did yesterday, and the state of Virginia, mass transit advocates, commuters, and the giant companies that hold the $1.6 billion contract to build the railway are reeling today. Was this political payback, a poke in the eye from a Republican administration that's no fan of...

By Marc Fisher | January 25, 2008; 7:41 AM ET | Comments (0)

Preservation Update: Lucas Family Prevails Over D.C.

Eighteen months after he started out to help his infirm parents get through the front of the house they've lived in for nearly half a century, Richard Lucas is finally on the cusp of victory over the District's historic preservation police. A team of lawyers who jumped to Lucas's defense after I wrote about his battle to build a ramp onto his parents' house in the Mount Pleasant section of Northwest Washington finally reached a settlement agreement with lawyers for the D.C. government this week. If the city approves a new set of plans now being drawn up, Lucas...

By Marc Fisher | January 24, 2008; 1:14 PM ET | Comments (0)

Snow Boundaries: The Fairfax Schools YouTube Story

Here's today's column on the case of the Fairfax County high school senior who called a top schools administrator at home to complain about school staying open on a snowy afternoon--and got a startling mouthful from the administrator's wife, which the kid then posted for all the world to hear on YouTube. For more on the issues raised in today's column, check out my magazine piece on toxic parents. The kid knows no boundaries. But neither does the adult. The high school senior is so lost in a hyper-public, YouTube world that he thinks nothing of forwarding a private...

By Marc Fisher | January 24, 2008; 6:47 AM ET | Comments (0)

Meter This: D.C.'s Fare Wars

Apparently I'm not the only one on the planet who laments the passing of the D.C. zone fare system. The same group of hard-core zone-loving cabbies who staged a one-day strike to protest Mayor Adrian Fenty's decision to cave to congressional fiat and impose a meter system is now threatening weekly strikes from Feb. 4 to the end of time. Not that that will accomplish anything except a flurry of news coverage and bothered visitors. The far more effective block to the announced April start of the Meter Era is the fact that not a single cabbie I've spoken...

By Marc Fisher | January 23, 2008; 7:01 AM ET | Comments (87)

O'Malley: Mr. Slots Is "Sick of" Slots

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is "sick of" slots. "Let's get beyond it.... Let's move on to other things," he said on a Baltimore radio talk show the other day. Never mind that Maryland voters will have to endure months of campaigning and gambling industry money sloshing through the state's political process because this very same governor persuaded legislators to put the controversy to the voters this fall. Now the governor is sick of the issue and just wants to move on. Somehow, we're supposed to ignore the fact that O'Malley has gone farther than his much more avowedly pro-slots...

By Marc Fisher | January 22, 2008; 7:48 AM ET | Comments (0)

Schools Monday: Rhee On Her Own

She starts out alone, literally. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee walks into a conference room at The Washington Post to meet with editors and reporters and unlike nearly every other public figure who joins us for such conversations, she has no aides in tow, no press handlers carrying folders of snazzy pie charts and carefully massaged messages. Rhee is making it clear that she's got the info and the 'tude to handle this on her own. And for 90 minutes, she takes nearly all questions--the only "no comment" comes on a query about just how much of the school...

By Marc Fisher | January 21, 2008; 7:24 AM ET | Comments (17)

The Crushing Burden of Paying for Payday

Some bills simply must be paid. So when the rent and the car payment come due but Tasnuva Ahmed's next paycheck is a week away and the wallet is empty, she visits her local payday lenders. Zips up to the Check 'N Go on King Street in Alexandria, hurries inside and emerges 14 minutes later with a few hundred dollars, an advance on her next paycheck. Cost: $15 per $100 borrowed. Ouch. Plus the interest she owes on loans from five other payday lending shops around town. Plus the interest on the last round of loans that she has...

By Marc Fisher | January 20, 2008; 7:34 AM ET | Comments (0)

Coin Contest Winners--Rowhouses and Scandal

There's a stench of inevitability around the Washington Monument and the Capitol. In the competition to see what image will appear on the back of the District's own quarter--as usual, an afterthought, tacked on to the end of the U.S. Mint's highly popular 50-state quarters program--you just know in your bones that some big pile of federal marble is going to win the day. Even this here web site's reader survey came up with George's obelisk as the big winner. That's why we had to run our own Raw Fisher contest to see what really ought to be on...

By Marc Fisher | January 18, 2008; 9:46 AM ET | Comments (0)

D.C. School Closings: The Hearings

Somewhere out there, some people don't like the idea of closing 23 D.C. public schools. But they didn't show up in any great numbers for tonight's 23 simultaneous hearings--the big finale in a weeks-long process of vetting Chancellor Michelle Rhee's proposed list of schools to be shuttered. To be sure, some schools on the list have their defenders, and some of them brought their vehement and even compelling cases to the attention of a huge battalion of schools administrators who supervised hearings all around the city Thursday evening. But at most of the hearings, hardly anyone bothered to come...

By Marc Fisher | January 17, 2008; 8:38 PM ET | Comments (34)

Feasty Boys: No More Frying In A Backyard Vat

More than seven years ago, in the early months of my columnizing, I visited two guys from Annapolis who were, remarkably enough, becoming a hit on a local cable access channel in Anne Arundel County. Jon Mayer and Jim Stump were clearly not ready for prime time, but as the Feasty Boys, two hefty gents who knew there was honor and magic in frying a huge turkey in a massive vat of oil out in the yard, they showed enormous promise. Consider that promise fulfilled. The boys debuted this week with their own show on The Travel Channel, "The...

By Marc Fisher | January 17, 2008; 3:03 PM ET | Comments (11)

Four Deaths and Words, Words, Words

The city's politicians are virtually falling over one another to praise Mayor Adrian Fenty for sacking six child welfare workers who failed to rescue Banita Jacks's four girls, Brittany, Tatianna, N'Kiah and Aja. The heads of a slew of city agencies are busy detailing how their employees ignored warnings about the disappearance and apparent abuse of the four girls, whose decomposed bodies were found in their home in Southeast last week. So we get some firings, and grand announcements of reforms, and hearings -- there must always be hearings -- and solemn promises that this will, as D.C. Council...

By Marc Fisher | January 17, 2008; 7:27 AM ET | Comments (0)

Pants Update: The Pants Suit Goes Hollywood

Fans of the $65 million pants suit may want to check out tonight's episode of NBC's Law and Order, as the crime show presents "Bottomless," an episode in which, as NBC puts it, "The investigation into a pair of missing pants leads to the murder of a young lawyer." I haven't seen the show, but early word is that the defense lawyer in the story is killed and the tale involves an affair of some sort. When Chris Manning, who defended the Chung family in last year's real-life D.C. saga, heard this, he quipped: "Wish I were the beneficiary...

By Marc Fisher | January 16, 2008; 3:11 PM ET | Comments (0)

My New Hero: A Publisher Stands Tall

One of the most frightening aspects of modern life is the slowly-evolving agreement among left and right that our constitutionally-enshrined protections for free speech ought to be dismantled in the event that someone might be offended. So it's a joy and more to watch Canadian publisher Ezra Levant defend himself against a hearing officer from the Alberta Human Rights Commission who is investigating his Western Standard magazine for republishing those controversial 2006 Danish cartoons lampooning Mohammad. In Canada, as in the United States, human rights commissions appear to have strange powers to investigate and label people. These commissions latch...

By Marc Fisher | January 16, 2008; 7:22 AM ET | Comments (40)

Now Virginia's Parties Really Face Off

Before all the shouting dies down in Richmond on March 8, you can expect Virginia legislators to act on something like 3,000 bills. (Not to worry, far fewer than 1,000 of them are designed to find creative new ways to punish illegal immigrants.) But the subtext of many of those bills will be this year's new political dynamic in the state capital--the Democratic takeover of the Senate and the Republicans' last stand in the House, where they hold a smaller but still firm hold on power. As the session began last week, the preliminaries were mostly about the two...

By Marc Fisher | January 15, 2008; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Schools Monday: Hope & Expectations in D.C.

A year after their new mayor swept into office with a powerful mandate to attack low achievement and all too much scandal in the city's schools, D.C. residents have markedly divided expectations and judgments about Adrian Fenty and his new chancellor, Michelle Rhee. A Washington Post poll conducted last week and published Sunday shows that both Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee enjoy remarkably high scores and are still riding a wave of optimism among city residents, even as those same residents say the troubled school system is the District's #1 problem. It's the classic split between the person and...

By Marc Fisher | January 14, 2008; 7:06 AM ET | Comments (0)

At Va. Tech, Near Silence For A Student's Anguished Cry

All William Kim has left of his only son is a new kind of life after death: Daniel's electronic remains. A cellphone with its address book -- the father calls each number on the list, hoping to connect to someone who knows something. An instant-messaging account. Online game rooms, filled with Daniel's fellow World of Warcraft players. So many people, so much life, yet Daniel Kim is dead, perhaps because somewhere in the blizzard of data that saturates our lives, his cries for help went unheard, unminded. After April, after the shootings at Virginia Tech, this sort of thing should...

By Marc Fisher | January 13, 2008; 9:09 AM ET | Comments (0)

A New Way To Hear What You Can't Hear On The Radio

Living in a city without a full-time jazz station, I have to rely on CDs and downloads to hear my fill of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But to discover new jazz from singer Madeleine Peyroux or pianist Bruce Barth, it's necessary to reach past broadcast radio to online music services, music blogs and pay satellite radio. But now comes NPR Music, a sprawling Web site from National Public Radio on which I can listen to the NPR jazz (or classical or folk or indie rock) shows that don't air on Washington's public stations -- as well as tap into...

By Marc Fisher | January 12, 2008; 1:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

Unaccompanied At Hannah Montana

In a city in which some parents are so wildly overprotective that they wouldn't let their 16-year-olds ride the Metro by themselves and other parents are so irresponsible that they let their kids roam the city at night while they're still in elementary school, it's hard to find much consensus on the right amounts of supervision and independence. But when some strikingly little kids showed up at this week's Hannah Montana concert having made their way to downtown's Abe Pollin Center without adult accompaniment, some observers were shocked--both by the idea that these kids' parents let them do this,...

By Marc Fisher | January 11, 2008; 7:39 AM ET | Comments (0)

Preservation Police Keep Infirm Couple Inside Their House

For more than a year, Richard Lucas has been trying to win permission to cut through his elderly, infirm parents' front porch so they can get from their living quarters onto the street without climbing stairs. And for more than a year, the D.C. historic preservation authorities have found reasons to say no to a ramp. After all, as the city's architectural historian put it, "repeating porches of similar height and depth create a notable pattern and rhythm" along the Lucas family's Mount Pleasant street, and the District wouldn't want to let that rhythm be broken just to accommodate...

By Marc Fisher | January 10, 2008; 6:06 AM ET | Comments (25)

Who Pays More Taxes? Virginia, Maryland or D.C.?

Everybody knows that Washington is tax-o-lific, a fiscal conservative's nightmare, a city that sucks dollars out of residents' pockets like no place else. Except that everybody is wrong. A new comparison of the tax burdens in the D.C. area reveals that the stereotype of tax-loving District bureaucrats hoovering up residents' riches is true for the lowest income level--the $25,000 a year family indeed faces a greater burden in Washington than in suburban Maryland or Virginia. But at the $50,000 income level, the District turns out to have the lowest tax burden of the three jurisdictions, and for the next...

By Marc Fisher | January 9, 2008; 7:16 AM ET | Comments (16)

Deja Vu: Obama-Clinton, Meet Fenty-Cropp

Political analogies are always rough, but as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton head into their showdown in New Hampshire today, this campaign is starting to sound awfully familiar to D.C. voters. The 2006 mayoral race that pitted the young, green dynamo--council member Adrian Fenty--against the presumptive heir to the office--council chair Linda Cropp--featured many of the emotional and psychological aspects of the current Democratic presidential face-off. Cropp, like Clinton, was a lackluster speaker who by most accounts knew the issues and the territory better than her young challenger. Cropp, like Clinton, was endorsed by the power establishment, admired by...

By Marc Fisher | January 8, 2008; 7:23 AM ET | Comments (14)

The Weather Outside Comes Inside

My favorite Washington weather site, capitalweather.com, tomorrow becomes part of washingtonpost.com Jason Samenow, Dan Stillman and their team of ten weather geeks and meteorologists, who are now entering their fifth year as the area's top purveyors of web weather info, analysis and nifty special forecasts--for Nats and Redskins games and Fourth of July fireworks, for beaches and holiday getaways--will take their act to this here web site starting at 5 a.m. Tuesday. But have no fear: "We'll still do everything we already do, and we'll be adding new features too," says Samenow. And nobody at capitalweather--they'll be renamed the...

By Marc Fisher | January 7, 2008; 2:50 PM ET | Comments (11)

Schools Monday: Close Buildings, Open Minds

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee burst onto the scene with a strategy not seen before in the District's long-troubled system: Put out the bad news, great big heaping servings of it, nearly every day. After decades of trying to pretend that things were just fine, or just circling the wagons to try to protect funding and staff from the ravages of outside criticism, the school system was suddenly touting its own bad news--buildings in disrepair, management flaws that mucked up reform efforts, messed-up warehouses, wasted dollars and on and on. The strategy, very much informed by Mayor Adrian Fenty's...

By Marc Fisher | January 7, 2008; 7:43 AM ET | Comments (12)

D.C. Schools: When The Room Goes Its Own Way

When a speaker loses control of a room packed with frustrated, angry people, the ugliness starts quietly and builds -- fast. First, there are murmurs and a rumble of side conversations: "It's not right." "They don't want to hear us." Then an occasional shout: "You're not listening!" "It's unfair!" And then -- as happened at one of the hearings D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is holding on her plan to shut 23 underused schools to free up resources for new classroom initiatives -- the room goes its own way. One outraged voice eggs on another, and soon, as I...

By Marc Fisher | January 6, 2008; 9:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

RFQ: What Have You Changed Your Mind About? (Plus: Last Chance on the Coin Contest)

John Brockman has been making people notice his ideas for the better part of half a century, going back to the Happenings of the 60s. He's a publicity hound--a literary agent, he once promoted a movie starring The Monkees. More recently, he's created an online salon of ideas, including an annual New Year's question he poses to a long list of the planet's philosophers, thinkers and academics. This year's question: "What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" Which also becomes the Random Friday Question here on the big blog. Flexible, optimistic people live longer, the scientists tell us, so--are...

By Marc Fisher | January 4, 2008; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (23)

Six Weeks From Iowa To DC/Md/Va Primaries: Novelty Items

In the pop culture of electoral politics, you haven't really made it to the top until there's a healthy supply of wacky and dumb novelty items keyed to your celebrity. So far, the novelty market is holding back on the current crop of candidates. While the nation is awash in George W. Bush playing cards, coasters, toilet paper and action figures, the novelty industry's early take on the 2008 campaign is remarkably one-sided. For most '08 presidential candidates, you can find plenty of shirts and buttons, even an array of Obama t-shirt slogans, but the only candidate who has...

By Marc Fisher | January 3, 2008; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (5)

Guns and Secrets: Shutting Out The Public

Last spring, when Roanoke Times editorial writer Christian Trejbal celebrated Sunshine Week in Virginia by publishing a public record listing the people who hold permits to carry concealed weapons, a whole lot of supposedly freedom-loving gun owners went, um, ballistic. They cried foul, saying that maybe public records shouldn't be quite so public. Now, Virginia legislators are moving to respond to their loudest constituents' demands, preparing bills for the forthcoming session in Richmond that would restrict access to those public records, making them hardly public at all. The original decision to publish the list was a proud moment in...

By Marc Fisher | January 2, 2008; 7:37 AM ET | Comments (39)

 

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