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Archive: October 2008

Halloween Election Special: Scare Stories

Random scary bits on All Hallow's Eve and the eve of the last weekend before the last weekdays before, oh yes, it's really coming, the actual end of the long, long campaign: From my email inbox: "Attached you will find a $150,000.00 USD reward letter applicable to any individual or company that releases the video of Senator Barack Obama held by the Los Angeles Times." The story, from the L.A. Times: "John McCain's presidential campaign Tuesday accused the Los Angeles Times of 'intentionally suppressing' a videotape it obtained of a 2003 banquet where then-state Sen. Barack Obama spoke of...

By Marc Fisher | October 31, 2008; 12:34 PM ET | Comments (0)

Still Can't Decide? Try Obama & McCain Radio

The sneering types in the opinion journalism biz love to unload final week rants about what morons those undecided voters are, how it's just not possible that anyone could still be uncertain about their presidential pick at this very late stage. Well, I hear from lots of undecided people, even now, and some of them are out of it and some are very thoughtful and a whole lot are somewhere in between. They want to know how to find the candidates' stands on the issues and they really read those position papers and the news stories about them. But...

By Marc Fisher | October 31, 2008; 7:52 AM ET | Comments (4)

How Old Is Too Old To Trick or Treat?

Where I live, most of the Halloween night inflation--a positively soaring number of kids out there on candy acquisition duty--has come in the form of swarming packs of little kids, decked out primarily in very traditional costumes--superheros, angels, ghosts, Potters, witches and other storybook figures. But as the evening progresses and the stock of candy dwindles, we've noticed a pretty steady stream of older--much older--kids coming to the door. Teenagers. Which I say without dread or derision, especially because I have a couple such creatures resident in my own house. But the kids and my wife and I have...

By Marc Fisher | October 30, 2008; 4:02 PM ET | Comments (23)

Searching For The Border With Real Virginia

That elusive line is out here somewhere, and I'm asking people to help me find the border between red and blue, between "real Virginia" and, well, what -- fake Virginia? "I call it New York South," offers Mitch Dickinson, 54, who lives near Fredericksburg and works for the state highway department. He draws the line along Fairfax County's southern border. A top aide to John McCain said last week that her man is still on his way to winning the state because of his support in "real Virginia," which McCain senior adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer described as the "part of the...

By Marc Fisher | October 30, 2008; 8:34 AM ET | Comments (3)

Tuesday's Biggest Upset: You Pick 'Em

Even in this humdinger of a political year, the pathetic truth about our damaged democracy is that most voters will step into the booth on Tuesday only to find that many, if not most, of the races on the ballot are already decided. Many elections, especially at the local level, are uncontested. And even at the congressional level, while there is at least token opposition in all of our local House races, the sad fact is that only the contest in Maryland's 1st District (Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County) comes close to being a tossup. Virginia...

By Marc Fisher | October 29, 2008; 8:11 AM ET | Comments (6)

D.C. Council: Plenty Of Heat, Not Much Light

However he fares across the rest of the country, Barack Obama stands to win in the District by Soviet proportions--Democrats talk about winning as much as 95 percent of the vote. (John Kerry won 89 percent in the District; even Michael Dukakis won 83 percent.) For many D.C. voters, the only real contest on the ballot will be the D.C. Council at large seat now held by Carol Schwartz, the only Republican on the council. Schwartz lost the September GOP primary to a dynamic young upstart named Patrick Mara, who knocked on thousands of doors and had big piles...

By Marc Fisher | October 28, 2008; 8:14 AM ET | Comments (10)

Midsummer Night's End: No More Shakespeare In The Park

The Shakespeare Theatre Company is one of Washington's most extraordinary success stories, growing from one intimate space on Capitol Hill to a major downtown institution with a national reputation, all in just a couple of decades. Hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors have been introduced to the Shakespeare Theatre's world-class productions through its annual series of free shows at the Carter Barron amphitheater in Rock Creek Park. But those Free for All productions are now history, scrapped in a sad, budget-driven decision that slams the brakes on the city's development into a year-round cultural capital. Shakespeare Theatre artistic...

By Marc Fisher | October 27, 2008; 8:16 AM ET | Comments (1)

Early Voting: Democracy Loses

Millions of Americans in more than 30 states have already voted, and you haven't. In those states, some people vote by mail, some at special early voting centers and some at their regular polling place, but they all have an opportunity not available to residents of Virginia, Maryland and the District. Is that fair? What if last month's economic collapse had happened, say, this week, and one group of Americans picked a president pre-crash while the rest of us made our choices under sharply different circumstances? Maryland residents will vote next week not only on slot machines but also on...

By Marc Fisher | October 26, 2008; 9:50 AM ET | Comments (22)

How We Lie To Ourselves About Slots

The Catholic Church is not opposed to gambling. "Gambling is not intrinsically evil or immoral," says a new paper on slot machines issued by Maryland's Catholic Conference in advance of next week's statewide vote on legalizing slots gambling. The moral problem arises when gambling becomes excessive or when it interferes with the responsibilities of life. That applies to individuals who gamble, and also to governments that must decide how to raise the money to provide basic services and care for the needy. In Maryland, according to this week's Washington Post Poll, 62 percent of those surveyed favor making slots...

By Marc Fisher | October 24, 2008; 8:35 AM ET | Comments (6)

Virginia House Race: Spoiled Voters, Evasive Pols

"What is wrong with Congress that you can't police yourselves?" asked Genie Hopkins. "What is wrong with you people that you do business like this? Why can't you work together?" I'd like to report that when Hopkins took time out of her day to travel from her home in Purcellville to a meeting hall in Leesburg to confront her congressman, Frank Wolf, with those heartfelt questions, the crowd cheered her on. And I'd love to tell you that Wolf embraced the truth behind Hopkins's plaint, leveled with his constituents about the problems we face and spelled out tough solutions involving...

By Marc Fisher | October 23, 2008; 9:16 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Pants Watch Never Stops

Pay no mind to those presidential campaigns--elections come and go. The big story is with us eternally: The $54 Million Pants Suit this morning reached all the way up to the top floor of the D.C. Superior Court building, to the District's Court of Appeals. There, Roy Pearson, the man who loved his pants perhaps too well, pushed his battle to redefine "Satisfaction Guaranteed" to the city's highest legal authority, as a three-judge panel heard oral arguments in Pearson's three-year-old case against the dry cleaners that purportedly lost a pair of his trousers. Wearing a trim, well-fitted dark blue...

By Marc Fisher | October 22, 2008; 12:46 PM ET | Comments (21)

Hydrant's Broken, But You Can See It On A Cool Map

Here's a wonderfully Washingtonian good news-bad news story: The District is a strong contender for City With The Most Broken Fire Hydrants honors, but the city has a cutting-edge tool for viewing and reporting broken hydrants. Several readers have noticed the color-coded, ring-shaped labels that are being placed on hydrants to show which ones have a prayer of working should there be a fire on your block. They asked that I look into just what is being done about the broken hydrants. Again, it's a good news-bad news situation: The good--they are being replaced. The bad--it's a five-year process....

By Marc Fisher | October 22, 2008; 7:37 AM ET | Comments (2)

Getting Cold In Here: Can't Pay That Power Bill?

Ok, here's fall. Which I love. Except for the moment when I succumb to the pleading of the wee ones in the house and finally turn on the heat. Which now costs many people nearly as much as their monthly rent. Or, to put it another way, heating your house is now, for most folks, more expensive than owning a car. So it should come as no surprise that a soaring and very large number of our fellow citizens simply cannot pay the power bill. I checked in with Pepco, which distributes electricity to 750,000 customers in Maryland and...

By Marc Fisher | October 21, 2008; 8:26 AM ET | Comments (20)

Chevy Chase DC Rejects Historic Status

Residents of the District's Chevy Chase area have voted overwhelmingly to reject historic district designation for their neighborhood. The long-awaited results of a survey asking residents if they want to be part of a proposed historic district came out like this: IN FAVOR: 108 (22.9%) OPPOSED: 363 (77.1%) NO OPINION: 3 TOTAL VOTING: 459 (51% of 930 ballots sent) The survey, conducted jointly by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 3/4G and 3E and the Chevy Chase Citizens Association, is the strongest statement yet by residents seeking to slam the brakes on the District government's aggressive efforts to impose historic status on...

By Marc Fisher | October 20, 2008; 4:33 PM ET | Comments (24)

Virginia Endorsements Going McCain's Way

The Washington Post's editorial board endorsed Barack Obama for president, but so far, Virginia's other papers are going for McCain. Here are some excerpts from their endorsement editorials: The Winchester Star says McCain is the choice because he has the experience, world view, judgment and character to do the job in an especially trying time. "Scarcely a presidential election goes by these days that voters aren't reminded that the race for the White House is the most important in years or, perhaps, their lifetimes.There's something different about this 2008 election: It clearly lives up to such hype.... Now is...

By Marc Fisher | October 20, 2008; 2:04 PM ET | Comments (9)

Why Can't A D.C. Blogger Get Public Records?

Much as its critics and even a few of its practitioners may protest to the contrary, journalism is no profession. It requires no specialized education, has no self-governing code of ethics, and has no self-policing professional organization with any power over its members. Journalism is a craft, one that anyone is free to exercise. But journalism is an unusual craft, in that its purpose and activities are specifically protected by the Constitution. So when government agencies, businesses and courts get into the question of just who qualifies to be a journalist, things get murky very quickly. The Washington Metropolitan...

By Marc Fisher | October 20, 2008; 8:15 AM ET | Comments (19)

Virginia GOP Already Deep Into Post-Mortems

Some Republicans say John McCain is in danger of becoming their party's first presidential candidate since 1964 to lose Virginia because he hasn't put enough stress on issues such as illegal immigration, gay marriage and abortion. No, no, say other Republicans: McCain is heading toward the worst GOP showing in Virginia since Barry Goldwater's because he and the party have strayed from the core principles that have lured moderates for decades -- lower taxes and less government spending. Well, maybe, says a third set of Republicans, but the main problem has been that McCain has run an unfocused, low-energy campaign...

By Marc Fisher | October 19, 2008; 8:08 AM ET | Comments (14)

Not Your Usual D.C. Corruption

The long and complicated standoff over the contract to operate the D.C. Lottery boils down to one simple fact: Even though one company would do the work more cheaply and the other company has done a lousy job of running the lottery up to now, the D.C. Council refuses to do the right thing, and they openly concede their refusal is based on just one factor: Politics. This is the most brazen display of cynicism and shady dealings we've seen in the District in decades--and that is saying quite a lot. No, this isn't a corruption scheme of the...

By Marc Fisher | October 17, 2008; 8:34 AM ET | Comments (5)

Slots And The Politics Of Desperation

Funny thing about politicians and slots: The very same politicians who are such big boosters of slot machine gambling while they are in office suddenly develop a sense of moral clarity when they're not stuck with the challenge of balancing a budget. Take former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, for example. But let's not be partisan about it: The exact same observation can be made about his Democratic successor, Gov. Martin O'Malley. Ehrlich was Mr. Slots the whole time he ran the show in Annapolis. For years, he argued that the only way to prevent tax increases was to save...

By Marc Fisher | October 16, 2008; 8:18 AM ET | Comments (6)

McCain Is Right On Michelle Rhee And Vouchers

Who would have predicted that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who is right up there with Sarah Palin as media magnet, would become the subject of one of the more sniping disputes in the final presidential debate? Barack Obama and John McCain went at each other over whether Rhee supports the concept of giving vouchers to D.C. schoolchildren so that they might escape the city's struggling public schools and attend private school on the taxpayers' dime. Yes, she does, McCain said--twice. No, she supports charter schools, Obama insisted. Who's right? McCain is right about the vouchers. (Obama's right about...

By Marc Fisher | October 15, 2008; 11:30 PM ET | Comments (10)

Washington's Loss: XM Empties Out

"It was very important for XM to continue, after the merger, to be headquartered in Washington, D.C. We've even said we won't have less employment here in the District than we already have."-- Sirius XM Radio chief executive Mel Karmazin, June 2007. Well, probably no one really believed that even when he said it. Federal regulators approved the merger of the nation's two satellite radio companies this summer knowing full well that New York-based Sirius, which was essentially taking over D.C.-based XM, would dismantle XM and search for a path to profitability mainly by cutting costs--XM's costs. Nobody has...

By Marc Fisher | October 15, 2008; 8:41 AM ET | Comments (61)

They Built It And They Came By Metro

The crowds at Nationals Park over the course of its first season of operation didn't wow anyone; indeed, the Washington Nationals set a record for lowest attendance by a team playing in a new ballpark. But the 29,000 fans who, on average, attended each of the 80 games this season filled about 70 percent of the seats and the good news, according to a Metro release today, is that an impressive 53 percent of those fans arrived at the ballpark by Metrorail. That's a big jump from the 38 percent of fans who took Metro to Nats games at...

By Marc Fisher | October 14, 2008; 3:38 PM ET | Comments (16)

How To Cut Expenses (Virginia Style)

If you had any money, you have a lot less now. If you didn't--and here's the gratingly unfair part--you'll probably get less going forward anyway. I've been scouring my expenses and generally making everyone in my household miserable about spending any money at all, so I was especially curious to take a close look at how Mr. Tim Kaine has gone about slashing $279 million from the commonwealth of Virginia's budget. The governor announced last week that he is laying off about 600 state workers, closing some prisons and shortening hours at museums, and slicing six percent off the...

By Marc Fisher | October 14, 2008; 8:34 AM ET | Comments (15)

Will Virginia Polling Places Be Overwhelmed?

Every election cycle around this time, the conspiracy theorists and extremists from both ends of the spectrum start crying foul about frauds and mess-ups to come. True to form, we're already hearing all manner of hysteria from the left about blacks being disenfranchised and from the right about blacks being paid to register to vote. Despite the chaos of the 2000 election, however, the vast majority of elections in this country come off without a hitch, and as government agencies go, elections boards tend to be just about the most corruption-free of all. But that doesn't mean we aren't...

By Marc Fisher | October 13, 2008; 8:37 AM ET | Comments (30)

Finding A Brother Across An Ocean Of Time

The airport isn't a very happy place right now -- grim-faced business travelers trudge in from another gloom-and-doom meeting, families fret over fares, airline workers seem jumpy and glum. So it shouldn't have been surprising that a crowd of total strangers gathered around Angie Scurlock at the Dulles international arrivals gate to watch as she nearly burst out of her skin to meet her half brother, Hans Engel. At 49, Scurlock was laying eyes on one of her three siblings for the first time. Five months ago, Scurlock didn't know she had siblings. Now, thanks to determined detective work by...

By Marc Fisher | October 12, 2008; 9:43 AM ET | Comments (27)

Who Are All Those McCain-Warner Voters?

Whether or not Barack Obama manages to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, it's safe to say that fellow Democrat Mark Warner will outpoll Obama by a wide margin. So who are these Virginians who are voting for John McCain for president and then switching parties to cast a ballot for Warner for Senate? Are they Republicans and independents who don't like GOP Senate candidate Jim Gilmore and his emphasis on socially conservative positions? Are they Democratic-leaning independents who can't bring themselves to vote for Obama because he's liberal, black or...

By Marc Fisher | October 10, 2008; 8:27 AM ET | Comments (90)

Should Warner Regret Not Going For The White House?

Mark Warner isn't running against Barack Obama, but he's beating his fellow Democrat by a stunning 25 or so points. The former governor is trouncing his Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate, Jim Gilmore, by upward of 30 points in recent polls. Obama, in contrast, holds a slim lead over John McCain in most Virginia polls. Warner bounds around the state on what looks like a victory lap, diving across enemy lines to embrace Republican ideas, lamenting the failure of the presidential candidates to get specific about our dire economic situation. Obama plays it cautious, having seemingly tucked away for...

By Marc Fisher | October 9, 2008; 9:44 AM ET | Comments (10)

Dupont Underground, This Time With Art, Not Burgers

In the annals of bad ideas, the transformation of the abandoned old trolley station beneath Dupont Circle into a fast-food court back in 1995 was a championship Washington entry. The notion was that downtown workers might feel a deep need to leave the park and the surrounding blocks of eateries and shops to get their lunch instead in a dark tunnel. To the surprise of no one except perhaps the developer and the city bureaucrats he managed to draw into his hare-brained scheme, Dupont Down Under died a quick and expensive death, followed by many years of litigation. Ever...

By Marc Fisher | October 8, 2008; 8:13 AM ET | Comments (25)

Dueling Economists: Who Gets The $700 Billion?

It's all about trust, or, as FDR put it, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And we've seen plenty o' fear in the markets of late. Today at noon (and available all week long) on Raw Fisher Radio, economists from George Mason University and the University of Maryland debate the wisdom of letting financial institutions collapse versus putting our faith in the bailout, however unpopular it may be here in the opening days of the new quasi-nationalized economy. Professor David Levy of Mason argues that there is little reason to expect the American people to...

By Marc Fisher | October 7, 2008; 11:40 AM ET | Comments (1)

Does Talking Politics Make Us A Nation Of Boors?

This might be a good moment to remind all that polite people are not supposed to discuss politics, sex, religion or money at social gatherings. There are two possible responses to this traditional admonition: 1) We are not polite people. And 2) gimme an unprintable break--what the hell else are we supposed to talk about? I'll grant the etiquette mavens the money part. That's perhaps the last taboo for many people--folks who are perfectly happy to detail their latest sexual congress or their opinions about candidates for the big-C Congress suddenly get all mannered and haughty when the topic...

By Marc Fisher | October 7, 2008; 7:29 AM ET | Comments (33)

Redskins Ruling: But Hearing People Don't Get the Lyrics Either

Redskins fan Shane Feldman, who is hearing-impaired, loved going to football games but felt left out. Unable to hear the public address system, he couldn't understand the referee's calls, the announcer's description of plays during the game, or the stadium's emergency announcements. Feldman and other deaf or hard of hearing fans complained and then sued the Redskins. The team agreed to post captions on the scoreboard, spelling out everything from the announcements naming the players involved in the last play to the penalty calls and even the ads read over the PA system. But that wasn't enough for the...

By Marc Fisher | October 6, 2008; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (23)

Frozen Children, Icy Silence--Time To Adopt Openness

When two children -- two adopted children -- end up dead in a block of ice hidden in their mother's freezer, the entire child welfare apparatus flies into a panic. Almost immediately after the news broke about the gruesome case of Renee Bowman and her children, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty called a news conference to say that the city had done no wrong (the family lived in Maryland, but the children had been adopted in the District). The Baltimore-based agency that cleared Bowman to adopt dropped into a defensive crouch from which it has yet to emerge. And social workers...

By Marc Fisher | October 5, 2008; 9:19 AM ET | Comments (31)

Warner vs. Gilmore: The Debate TV Won't Show You

You could barely escape the Palin-Biden vice-presidential debate last night--and who would want to? (Don't answer that question.) But if you're a northern Virginia resident interested in this fall's faceoff between two former governors now running for the U.S. Senate, you can forget about watching tonight's debate on TV as it unfolds in Roanoke at 7 p.m. In every other market in Virginia--even in extreme western Virginia where the local TV station is across the state line in Tennessee--the debate between Mark Warner and Jim Gilmore will be carried live on local TV. But not a single Washington TV...

By Marc Fisher | October 3, 2008; 3:03 PM ET | Comments (4)

Virginia Teachers: Too Blue For School?

When the Virginia Education Association, the state's 60,000-member teachers union, sent an email to members last week encouraging them to wear blue shirts on "Obama Blue Day," the union says it was merely trying to boost voter registration. Yeah, right. The union was actually engaging in a sly, none-too-subtle effort to pressure students into accepting teachers' political choices. The original email to members was frank enough: "Your next chance to help with the campaign is coming up ... and it is very simple to do. Tuesday is OBAMA BLUE DAY!!!" Teachers were encouraged to "WEAR BLUE -don't wear an...

By Marc Fisher | October 3, 2008; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (48)

Google 2001: No Iraq War, No Sarah Palin

The clever folks over at Google are out with Google 2001, a search tool based on their oldest surviving database, the sum total of the web's contents in 2001. Yes, web nostalgia is here. You can waste the whole rest of the day checking out what we did and didn't know way back in '01. For example, "Iraq War" brings a slew of entries about the Iran-Iraq War. And then there's this: "Your search - 'Sarah Palin' - did not match any documents."...

By Marc Fisher | October 2, 2008; 3:52 PM ET | Comments (3)

Gilchrest Unloads On Know-Nothing Pols--And Us, Too

Wayne Gilchrest, the nine-term Republican congressman who represents Maryland's Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County, has had it, and he's ready to talk. He's had it with his own party, which he says "has become more narrow, more self-serving, more centered around 'I want, I want, I want.' " He's finished with his party's presidential candidate, John McCain, who Gilchrest says "recites memorized pieces of information in a narrow way, whereas Barack Obama is constantly evaluating information, using his judgment. One guy just recites what's in front of him, and the other has initiative and reason and prudence...

By Marc Fisher | October 2, 2008; 8:21 AM ET | Comments (9)

Don't Build Parking, And They'll Come--Without Cars

For decades, the District and residents wary of overdevelopment have used the city's parking regulations as one of their main weapons in the war against congestion. Complex formulas require a certain number of parking spots for each chunk of new residential or office space. But now D.C. planners and a growing number of urbanists are proposing to scrap those minimum parking requirements on the theory that big urban parking garages are a destructive and unnecessary public subsidy for car owners. The argument is that building garages in densely populated urban neighborhoods undermines public transit, wastes space that could be...

By Marc Fisher | October 1, 2008; 12:16 PM ET | Comments (30)

R.I.P. Olsson's, Purveyor of Books, Records & People-Gazing

In 1985, Tower Records barged into town, and the question was whether Olsson's--John Olsson's locally-owned chain of book and music shops--could survive the big box store on the GWU campus. From Richard Harrington's story in The Post chronicling Tower's arrival: John Olsson was ready for the big boys. "I told my people it would hurt us for the first six months," he said then, "but that gradually people would be coming back to us because we make such an effort to keep the good stock around all the time." In 1990, Borders came to town, and Olsson's again was...

By Marc Fisher | October 1, 2008; 7:40 AM ET | Comments (18)

 

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