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Archive: September 2008

Going Car-less in D.C.: Still No Picnic

Tommy Wells, the Ward 6 D.C. Council member, had to deal with Marion Barry moving Wells' bicycle out of a parking space in front of the Council's offices so Barry could park his car there. Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh, who didn't own a car back when she lived in San Francisco, manages to bike to work in the District once a week, but says the city is still a ways from becoming an easy place to go car-free. When it comes to ease of travel without owning a car, Washington is not quite New York, but it...

By Marc Fisher | September 30, 2008; 8:42 AM ET | Comments (43)

Where You Vote Matters: Is College Really Home?

As we all learned in 2000, what really matters in presidential elections is not the nationwide popular vote, but the state-by-state vote. Give people a choice of states to vote in, and many would likely try their hand at strategic voting. This year, for example, a vote in Virginia is far more meaningful than one in Maryland or the District. Most people don't get to choose which state to vote in. But students who attend out-of-state colleges do. Sort of. This is one of those gray areas of the law, and elections officials in Virginia are learning just how...

By Marc Fisher | September 29, 2008; 8:44 AM ET | Comments (29)

How Jason Campbell Lifted Pinky's Last Hours

Antoinette "Pinky" Berry fought hard, but as she drifted into her final days, she had very little left. In bed at Washington Hospital Center's Cancer Institute, surrounded by family and friends, she had stopped eating, wasn't much for talking, and showed little of the spirit that made her so popular at work at the Oxon Hill Safeway's bakery department. Making her rounds at the hospital, Vera Oye Yaa-Anna, a storyteller and artist who visits patients to offer encouragement and perhaps a song, opened the door and instantly recognized Pinky from her time at Vera's neighborhood Safeway on Capitol Hill....

By Marc Fisher | September 28, 2008; 8:12 AM ET | Comments (6)

NSO's New Leader: Daring Improviser or Musical Anarchist?

The news this morning that Christoph Eschenbach will be the new conductor and music director of the National Symphony Orchestra is certainly a relief for those who have worried that Washington's orchestra was entering into an extended period of drift. Eschenbach, the German-born leader (until an unhappy parting last year) of The Philadelphia Orchestra, doesn't arrive full-force at the Kennedy Center until 2010, which means we will have several years in which to join the debate over his controversial approach. But controversy is likely a good thing for an orchestra that has seen its primacy in the region challenged...

By Marc Fisher | September 26, 2008; 8:48 AM ET | Comments (7)

A Street Where Businesses Still Have Some Sense

As each day's news brings more dire warnings of doom and panic, the people in charge tell us how urgent it is that we all bail out huge, rich businesses that massively mucked up their work. Politicians, journalists and business executives alike hide behind thick tapestries of incomprehensible jargon, tossing out words such as "asset-backed securities" and "derivatives" in an effort to persuade us that they really understand what's happening. If they did, they'd explain it in plain English. But they don't. So I visited some folks who know how business is supposed to work -- people who pay their...

By Marc Fisher | September 25, 2008; 9:04 AM ET | Comments (6)

AIG Still Says It Knows How To "Avoid Disaster Altogether"

Even as the FBI launches a probe into whether fraud played a role in the troubles of AIG, and even as the nation's largest insurer takes a two-year, $85 billion federal loan to keep bankruptcy at bay, the company is still hawking itself as a rock-solid protection against life's hardships. In a slick ad brochure that my friend Gary received in the mail, AIG boasts that "some insurance companies respond to the financial consequences of a disaster. We Help You Avoid Disaster Altogether." AIG, it seems, "can help minimize threats to your personal wealth, your family and your property."...

By Marc Fisher | September 24, 2008; 4:20 PM ET | Comments (0)

Will Fenty Let Prince George's Take D.C. United?

In this sorry economy, no one is going to put up a couple of hundred million for a new soccer stadium right now. But the contest for the future of D.C. United is nonetheless on, and Prince George's County yesterday delivered a sharp smack to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, a warning that if the District doesn't move with some alacrity, the region's pro soccer team could well follow the path the Washington Redskins traveled a decade ago. For months, Fenty issued only the vaguest of statements about wanting to keep the soccer team in the city. When he finally...

By Marc Fisher | September 24, 2008; 8:55 AM ET | Comments (25)

Spend Millions To Let Teens Sleep Later?

If you ask the teenager who lives in my house, the natural sleep times for an adolescent are about 2:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. I actually think setting high school start times for noon would be a great step forward for society in many ways (eliminating that late afternoon time when so many teens are unsupervised, for example), but back on planet Earth, the decades-long debate over school start times focuses more on whether school should begin at, say, 7:20 a.m. or 9 a.m. In Fairfax County, the debate over school start times has dragged on for years, but...

By Marc Fisher | September 23, 2008; 11:36 AM ET | Comments (8)

Virginia Likes Palin, But Not What She Stands For

We sort of knew this just based on the enthusiasm that has followed Sarah Palin's nomination, but the results of today's Washington Post poll put it in clear, stark terms: The Republican vice presidential candidate is personally popular in Virginia--53 percent have a favorable impression of her, versus 38 percent unfavorable--but Virginians have strong disagreements with Palin on some key policy questions. For example, the largest proportion of Virginia voters in nearly a decade of Post polling now supports having abortion be legal in most or all cases. Sixty percent of those polled support abortion rights, compared to 38...

By Marc Fisher | September 23, 2008; 5:35 AM ET | Comments (19)

Nats '09: Lower Ticket Prices Aren't Enough

The Washington Nationals' inaugural season in their new ballpark has been an on-field disaster, a fan experience success and a decent but not very exciting performer as a business. As this season-long adventure in player injuries comes to a close, the Lerner family and team executives are spreading the word that they intend to step up their game in time for next spring. But will lowering some ticket prices be enough to propel Washington's baseball franchise into a sorely-needed pivot? The team announced this month that it will cut prices for season ticket holders on 7,500 of Nationals Park's...

By Marc Fisher | September 22, 2008; 8:49 AM ET | Comments (87)

Switching From Clinton To Palin: Pride Or Provocation?

Lynette Long's friends can barely sputter their objections. "How could you?" they say. "What about the environment? What about gay rights? What about Roe v. Wade?" Long's son calls, flabbergasted. And her patients in affluent, liberal Bethesda? They can hardly fathom it. Lynette Long -- psychologist, feminist, Democrat, Dupont Circle dweller, Whole Foods shopper, George Bush hater, Hillary Clinton supporter (to the max) -- is not just voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin, she even took the stage at their rally in Fairfax to trumpet her decision to the world. Long got the call from the McCain campaign at...

By Marc Fisher | September 21, 2008; 10:06 AM ET | Comments (187)

Ripping Obama: Gilmore's Last Hope Against Warner?

If you could get out of the way of all the mud being slung at yesterday's U.S. Senate debate in Virginia, you'd have seen a remarkable and almost discomfiting degree of agreement between longtime adversaries Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner. Democrat and Republican alike agree that the national economy is in big trouble and that the answer is more oversight, more regulation. (Yes, Republican Gilmore said that too.) Both candidates bashed Wall Street executives for unbridled greed. Gilmore, who made a career of criticizing government regulation, emphasized the need for "proper regulations," "ethical lending practices," and "more oversight." Even...

By Marc Fisher | September 19, 2008; 8:12 AM ET | Comments (22)

Why Do D.C.'s Homeless Sleep In A Historic Landmark?

The way things have long worked at the Franklin School, the stately Civil War-era building that bizarrely serves as Washington's main shelter for homeless people downtown, if you're not there to claim your bed by 5:30 p.m., you're on the street that night. Rules are rules. Now there's a new wrinkle at Franklin: If you miss the cutoff time, your bed just might be dismantled and permanently removed, its parts moved behind the locked door to the shelter's third floor, the part of the building I was not permitted to see on a recent visit. This grim game of musical...

By Marc Fisher | September 18, 2008; 9:49 AM ET | Comments (3)

Debate Questions For Gilmore And Warner

When former governors Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner square off in the Virginia U.S. Senate debate at the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning, the questions will undoubtedly focus on some obvious topics--the troubled economy, the war, the housing crunch, maybe even immigration. And the candidates are likely to be asked about the presidential race in Virginia and its impact on their own efforts to succeed Sen. John Warner. The debate, which will air live on News Channel 8, is the only face-to-face meeting of the campaign that we know will be televised in the Washington area. After much...

By Marc Fisher | September 17, 2008; 4:07 PM ET | Comments (12)

Congress Tries To Blow Away D.C. Gun Law

This much is clear: The nonsense that Democrats peddle about being the party that will advance the cause of home rule and voting rights for the District of Columbia is nothing more than campaign blather. When push comes to shove, as it did today on the House floor, the Dems are perfectly happy to elbow Washingtonians out of the way. Eighty-five Democrats joined with 181 Republicans to approve a bill that strips the District of its ability to write its own new gun laws in response to this summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the D.C. ban on handgun...

By Marc Fisher | September 17, 2008; 1:23 PM ET | Comments (38)

Empathy Bowl '08: Palin vs. Obama

I'm telling you, the big blog you want to start yesterday is Palinography. 24/7 on what she means, who she really is, and what we all want from her. (Yes, I know, someone already took the domain name Palinology, but they're not really doing anything with it.) Every time I mention Sarah Palin--let alone devote a column to exploring what her supporters find so deeply appealing about her--the mail pours in by the hundreds. Most of it is vitriol and assurances that readers know who I'm really for and what I'm really against (the mail is running about 30...

By Marc Fisher | September 17, 2008; 8:07 AM ET | Comments (26)

"Primary" Purpose Of This Blog: Make You Rich

Maryland's highest court agrees that the state's proposed wording of the slots referendum that will appear on this November's ballot was misleading. So the court, like the judges in a lower court, told the state it must add a word: Instead of saying merely that the "purpose" of slot machines is to raise money for education, the ballot must now specify that collecting money for schools is the "primary purpose," at least perhaps allowing voters to realize that some (or nearly all) of the slots dollars go to other purposes. In fact, of course, Maryland schools would get only...

By Marc Fisher | September 16, 2008; 8:28 AM ET | Comments (23)

Union Station Movie Theaters To Close

Buried in a congressional hearing about the hard time that Union Station security guards are giving tourists and others who dare to take photos while in the mall or station was a news nugget that may brighten your day: The Union Station 9, the movie theater complex in the station's basement food court, will soon shut down forever. Opened in 1988 as part of the renovation of the station, the Union Station 9's theaters are named after the classic old movie palaces that once dotted the District --the Roxy, Palace, Orpheum, Penn and so on. But there was nothing...

By Marc Fisher | September 15, 2008; 8:22 AM ET | Comments (99)

SWAT Fever: It's Epidemic (Sorry About The Dogs)

It's sad, of course, that Cheye Calvo's dogs were blown away, left for hours in two pools of blood on the floors of his living and dining rooms. It's unfortunate, to be sure, that Calvo's front door had to be burst open, that it was necessary to plant his mother-in-law on the floor, arms bound, a high-caliber weapon pointed at her head, or that his house had to be trashed, every drawer flipped over, his belongings strewn about. Tragic, really. But no apology is necessary, you see. Even though Calvo and his wife were exonerated of any criminal act almost...

By Marc Fisher | September 14, 2008; 11:13 AM ET | Comments (65)

Sitting Out Adams Morgan Day

As usual, the Madam's Organ ad in this week's City Paper lists the bands playing at the Adams Morgan blues bar. But tucked between the notices for piano man David Maxwell and reggae band One Night Stand is this announcement: "No Adams Morgan Day for Madam's Organ." That's not just a tongue twister, but a statement of anger, frustration and principle by the club's owner, Bill Duggan. When the annual street festival unfolds this Sunday, drawing 20,000-plus visitors to take in all manner of ethnic eats, music from around the world and one of the city's best days of...

By Marc Fisher | September 12, 2008; 8:39 AM ET | Comments (10)

The New Politics Of Palin: Ignorance Is Strength?

Eight working mothers from the Virginia Run development in Centreville went together to the Palin-McCain rally yesterday because Sarah Palin is "just like us." This is something new. Nobody ever accused Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan of being just like us. "She justifies what we do every day," said Beth Tweddle, who works in sales and carried a sign she drew herself, saying "We [heart] Pit Bull Palin." Tweddle was already a McCain supporter, she said, "but Sarah just energizes us and got us out here because she does what we do, she lives like we do." We don't live...

By Marc Fisher | September 11, 2008; 9:25 AM ET | Comments (17)

Farewell To Carol Schwartz--D.C.'s Last Republican?

With good cause, Patrick Mara is flying high today. The 32-year-old political novice last night ousted Carol Schwartz, the only elected official in the District who has been around as long as Marion Barry, a pioneer of home rule, a mainstay of city politics through four decades, and a true rarity--a Republican who regularly won elections in Washington. Schwartz lost her at-large D.C. Council seat in a Republican primary marred by can't-anybody-here-shoot-straight muck-ups by the city's sadly deteriorating elections office (once one of the few shining corners of the city government.) Schwartz told me last week that she would...

By Marc Fisher | September 10, 2008; 5:00 PM ET | Comments (23)

Ping-Pong Commissioner Update: A Challenger Is Born

Just hours before the deadline for this November's ballot, a political novice has stepped forward to challenge the upper Northwest Washington advisory neighborhood commissioner who took it upon himself to be the area's video vigilante, posting on YouTube whenever he sees horrors such as a restaurant offering passersby free ping-pong games along a Connecticut Avenue sidewalk. The prospect of ANC commissioner Frank Winstead winning another term without opposition had some neighbors in near apoplexy. But while yesterday's D.C. primary left the city with only one likely tight race on the November ballot--the drive to succeed Carol Schwartz in an...

By Marc Fisher | September 10, 2008; 7:45 AM ET | Comments (5)

Is Obama's Message Too Soft For Virginia?

Virginians unaccustomed to getting any attention from presidential candidates are suddenly at the red hot center of this campaign, and with Barack Obama down in the southern part of the state today and John McCain and Sarah Palin appearing at Van Dyke Park in Fairfax City on Wednesday, both sides are diving into exactly the parts of the state where their parties are weakest. But are the campaigns pushing the right messages in their drive to win Virginia? On Raw Fisher Radio today, I talked to strategists from both sides who agreed that the state is too close to...

By Marc Fisher | September 9, 2008; 2:59 PM ET | Comments (36)

D.C. Gun Battle: Congress Vs. Zoning

What was that business about the Supreme Court having the last word? The Supremes' decision ending the District's three-decade experiment with banning handguns appears to have created a bonanza for new gun laws and the politicians and lobbyists who write them. Even as the D.C. government moves to place such strict limits on the city's new gun freedom as to render the court's decision largely moot, Congress is stepping in to try to prevent the District from taking any steps that might push back at the Supreme Court ruling. This week, as Congress makes a cameo reappearance before adjourning...

By Marc Fisher | September 9, 2008; 8:10 AM ET | Comments (27)

Why D.C. Teachers Will Eventually Accept Merit Pay (Hint: Survival)

Right now, it looks like D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's plan to strip the city's teachers of their seniority and tenure rights in exchange for huge pay increases has run into a wall of opposition from union members who value security over a meatier paycheck. The hurricane of change that Rhee represents is scary enough to many teachers that they are ready to say No to raises that could send their salaries over the $100,000 mark. But there is a reason the teachers' own union president, George Parker, has been working with Rhee on finding a palatable way to...

By Marc Fisher | September 8, 2008; 8:09 AM ET | Comments (14)

Partying With Regis, KISS And Wii At The AARP Dance

Strolling down Disease Alley at the AARP Expo at the Washington Convention Center, I feel ever more justified in my decision to keep ignoring the dozens of membership cards the nation's most persistent advocacy group started sending me more than a year ago. Eager salespeople approach me with offers to measure my bone density, check my blood pressure, find out if my hearing, vision, balance or memory have begun to tank. You name the malady and a government agency, a charitable foundation and a slew of profiteers have set up booths here to hawk information, fear, advice and giveaways. Whoever...

By Marc Fisher | September 7, 2008; 8:31 AM ET | Comments (7)

You Mean Someone Makes A Profit Off Slots?

When Marylanders go to the polls in November, they will of course be electing a president and members of Congress, but they will also decide whether their state goes into the gaming business in a big new way. The referendum on opening state-sponsored slots casinos in five Maryland locations--including at the racetrack in Laurel--is heating up, and the battle right now is over whether Gov. Martin O'Malley's pro-slots administration is trying to stack the deck with crafty wording of the question that will be posed to voters on the ballot. Here's the wording of the constitutional amendment Secretary of...

By Marc Fisher | September 5, 2008; 8:45 AM ET | Comments (14)

Asking The Tough Questions: D.C.'s Carol Schwartz

After three decades on the D.C. Council and school board, after the death of her husband, after losing four campaigns for mayor, Carol Schwartz says she is "sort of used to having things work out not so well. I've led kind of a chaotic life." But the District's only Republican elected official is an eternal optimist, as sunshiny as her bright yellow convertible and as big a booster as this city has ever had. It's fashionable in this year when the political mantra insists on urgent but undefined "change" to conclude that elected officials who have been around for a...

By Marc Fisher | September 4, 2008; 8:41 AM ET | Comments (2)

Copy Editinng's Rapid Decline: Whom Notices?

Every week, I write two columns that appear in the print Washington Post and here online. And every week, I write five to ten pieces here on the blog on washingtonpost.com. Each print column goes from me to the Post's Metro Editor, R.B. Brenner, who goes over it carefully and comes back to me with comments about the logic, argument, reporting and writing of the piece. After I make any needed revisions, the piece goes to the copy desk, where a copy editor combs through the column to see if it makes sense, checks facts and spellings, questions points...

By Marc Fisher | September 3, 2008; 8:35 AM ET | Comments (17)

Anti-Ping-Pong Commissioner To Run Unopposed?

With 72 hours to go before nominating petitions are due at the D.C. Board of Elections, despite all manner of uproar over the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who acts as video vigilante to protect his corner of northwest Washington from the horror of sidewalk ping-pong tables, benches and other signs of urban life, no one is running against Frank Winstead. Winstead is the commissioner whose video oeuvre has helped press D.C. bureaucrats into cracking down on table tennis games outside the Comet Ping Pong pizza place and brought to public attention such grievous ills as UPS trucks left unattended on...

By Marc Fisher | September 2, 2008; 3:28 PM ET | Comments (9)

Hello, Governor, I'm Just Calling To Say I Had Sex

I don't think Gov. Tim Kaine is fielding the calls, but did you know that for the past year, the Virginia state government has been compiling a registry of men who had sexual relations with that woman, or that woman, or any woman not their wife? The Putative Father Registry, a creation of your Virginia General Assembly, is meant to allow men in the commonwealth with a way to stake their claim to any children who might result from their extramarital or premarital relations. It's a simple procedure: You go out and do your thing, then, for the price...

By Marc Fisher | September 2, 2008; 8:37 AM ET | Comments (13)

 

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