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Archive: December 2008

Yes, He Can: Obama, Nixon & Duckpin Bowling

In the annals of presidential flip-flops, Barack Obama's bold promise to junk the White House bowling alley, followed mere weeks later by his decision to keep Dick Nixon's pride and joy, may not quite match "Read my lips: No new taxes," but it is nonetheless a sad commentary on the nature of the presidency. It's probably no coincidence that Obama's dissing of the White House lane began soon after he bowled his infamous 37, winning eternal sympathy from those of us who have an enduring relationship with gutter balls. "I have sworn that we're taking out the bowling alley...

By Marc Fisher | December 31, 2008; 8:55 AM ET | Comments (3)

D.C. Libraries: Homeless Shelters No More?

Among all the troubles that plague Washington's libraries, the #1 reason many people steer clear of the places is that they have been permitted to become de facto day centers for the homeless, many of whom find the libraries a convenient and all too welcoming places to get warm, sleep and pass the hours before their next treacherous night on the streets. Now, D.C. libraries director Ginnie Cooper is courageously standing up against the advocates who fight for the homeless no matter what the impact of their behavior on other citizens. Cooper has announced new rules that, starting Feb....

By Marc Fisher | December 30, 2008; 9:06 AM ET | Comments (19)

Green Vs. Purple Line--Flared Tempers Over Train Vs. Trail

Pam Browning and Ben Ross have spent decades fighting to get the Purple Line built the right way. Both live where they do, in Chevy Chase and downtown Bethesda, respectively, because they love the convenience of an urban center in a suburban location. Both cherish the Capital Crescent Trail, the former railroad bed that has been transformed into a linear park, a busy pathway for mothers with strollers, exercisers out for a constitutional and bicycle commuters. But that trail between Silver Spring and Bethesda exists because the government bought the right-of-way from the B&O Railroad in 1988 to build...

By Marc Fisher | December 28, 2008; 8:52 AM ET | Comments (35)

Coming Home: A Christmas Welcome At Andrews

As night falls and the humongous cargo jet carrying the wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan nears Andrews Air Force Base, Elsie Smolarsky and her crew busily stuff candies into tiny Christmas stockings. Elsie's husband, Ed, prepares the stock of breakaway sweat pants and other clothing designed to fit over casts and braces. Danny Politano stacks the quilts that have been handmade by volunteers for distribution to each arriving warrior. Down the hall in the briefing room, medical teams from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and Andrews's own Aeromedical Staging Facility go...

By Marc Fisher | December 25, 2008; 11:09 AM ET | Comments (1)

Best New Music of 2008

Coming soon in The Post: Our music critic, J. Freedom DuLac, will present a compendium of the year's best new music as selected by a number of Post writers, including political guru Chris Cillizza and military maven Tom Ricks. Josh asked me to contribute my top five for the year, and here they are, as they say, in no particular order. Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" (removed from YouTube) was my choice for '08's summer song--it did what a summer song's supposed to do. It sounded fresh and familiar all at once, it captured the imaginations of listeners across...

By Marc Fisher | December 24, 2008; 8:55 AM ET | Comments (0)

Did MoCo Overreact By Closing Schools Today?

My phone's ringing off the hook as Montgomery County parents vent about another sudden closing of public schools by a system that seems to grab almost any opportunity to toss a wrench into parents' daily routines. The school system announced just before noon that it is closing schools two and a half hours early today because some schools are without heat or water because of the massive water main break that turned River Road into a facsimile of its namesake this morning. Unquestionably, the disaster has had a powerful and difficult impact on some portions of the county. And...

By Marc Fisher | December 23, 2008; 2:42 PM ET | Comments (5)

We're #1 In HDTV, MP3s & Online Spending

It's bad enough that the security maniacs may be taking away Barack Obama's Blackberry and email accounts, but the new president may find himself even more out of touch with the people around him here than he would be anywhere else in the country. That's because when it comes to technically courant behavior, such as owning high-def TVs or MP3 players or spending big money in online purchases, the Washington area leads the nation. Nationwide, 23 percent of consumers own HD TV sets (almost doubling the technology's penetration in one year), but in the D.C. market, that number jumps...

By Marc Fisher | December 23, 2008; 8:07 AM ET | Comments (11)

Virginia GOP's Tobacco Love Affair

This time, it's going to be different, promises Bob McDonnell, Virginia's attorney general and the Republican candidate for governor in the 2009 race. The commonwealth's Republicans, chastened by successive defeats and a growing sense that Virginia is becoming at least a purple state if not quite relatively secure territory for Democrats, are no longer willing to cede northern Virginia to the other party, no longer willing to allow themselves to be painted as the party of harshly conservative positions on social issues. That's the message McDonnell is pushing in his campaign visits to the region where he grew up....

By Marc Fisher | December 22, 2008; 8:33 AM ET | Comments (12)

Purple Line: Light Rail, Heavy Struggle

The grand and wondrous thing about spending 20 years arguing over building a transit line is that the debate keeps gaining altitude. What was once a simple matter of where to lay the tracks to connect the two arms of Metro's Red Line has morphed into an epic confrontation featuring standoffs between -- deep breath now -- tree-huggers and bicyclists, transit-dependent Hispanic workers and car-addicted Anglo professionals, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, anti-density NIMBYs and pro-urban smart-growth advocates, and bus proponents and rail fans. The quest to build a Purple Line from New Carrollton to Bethesda even has a subplot...

By Marc Fisher | December 21, 2008; 10:55 AM ET | Comments (3)

Why Was Father Who Killed Son In Car Acquitted?

The tragic and horrifying case of Miles Harrison, the Loudoun County man who killed his 21-month-old son by leaving him in a broiling hot SUV for nine hours last July, ended this week when a Fairfax County judge acquitted the father of involuntary manslaughter. As much as the father has suffered, and as much as he proved in court that he truly did love and adore that boy, Judge Terrence Ney's decision unjustly fails to hold Harrison accountable for his negligence. Just because someone who does wrong feels terribly about his misdeed does not absolve the justice system of...

By Marc Fisher | December 19, 2008; 8:48 AM ET | Comments (19)

Appreciation: The Pants Suit Finally Ends

Adjust your belts, check your cuffs. The pants suit is over. The D.C. Court of Appeals today put the finishing touches on Roy Pearson's $67 million lawsuit over the pair of pants that he claimed never came back from the cleaners. The good news: Pearson got cuffed, stuffed and otherwise rebuffed. The three-judge panel unanimously found not a shred of evidence, reasoning or argument to support any of Pearson's claims against Custom Cleaners, the Chung family or the District of Columbia's consumer protection law. The bad news: The judges demonstrated far more discretion and class than Pearson ever displayed,...

By Marc Fisher | December 18, 2008; 4:52 PM ET | Comments (3)

At End of Road, John Warner Sticks To Middle Lane

Yellow stickies in his Senate office indicate where each piece is destined to go after John Warner closes up shop at noon on the Saturday after New Year's. Everything must go: the bust of Winston Churchill, a gift from Barry Goldwater when Warner entered the Senate in 1979; Warner's own handiwork, an oil painting of peonies; a bumper sticker from his first campaign; his father's World War I medals; a wooden arm from Saddam Hussein's throne. At 81, Virginia's senior senator stands as erect as ever. He still spins a good yarn and knows a bill's real back story. But...

By Marc Fisher | December 18, 2008; 9:02 AM ET | Comments (0)

Cool Poster, But Where's Barnaby Woods?

Washington, as they teach the kids in lessons on local history, is a city of neighborhoods. But you haven't seen just how much that distinguishes us from other cities until you get a look at Jenny Beorkrem's Ork Posters, a series of typographic art posters of major American cities. Ork Posters is just out with its Washington map, and it is both fascinating and markedly different from their maps of, say, New York City, Boston, or even Chicago (though that's a closer comparison). How so? Courtesy: Ork Posters The D.C. poster is much more crowded, not because of density...

By Marc Fisher | December 17, 2008; 7:46 AM ET | Comments (7)

Live, It's The Martin O'Malley Show

(Available now over at Raw Fisher Radio: A visit with two of the area's best hyperlocal bloggers, the Prince of Petworth, Dan Silverman; and the Silver Spring Penguin, Jennifer Deseo. Join us as we look inside the burgeoning world of online micronews in this time of media turmoil.) Ok, maybe it's not exactly appointment viewing, but Wednesday is the next go-round for "Ask the Governor," aka The Martin O'Malley Show, a monthly TV call-in show starring Maryland's top man. I know you can't wait for tomorrow's edition, so I thought I'd give you a quick synopsis of O'Malley's maiden...

By Marc Fisher | December 16, 2008; 12:18 PM ET | Comments (2)

When An Early Morning Metro Ride Costs $22

It may have been the first time the Metro system opened extra early so riders could shop. The Friday after Thanksgiving--Black Friday--was billed as a make or break day for retailers in this season of economic despair. And D.C. Council member Jim Graham (Ward 1), who serves on Metro's board, was eager to give the new DC USA shopping center in Columbia Heights a big boost for its first Christmas. So Graham persuaded Metro to start the trains rolling at 4 a.m. that day, an hour earlier than usual. The cost of the early opening: $27,000. Result: Grim. A...

By Marc Fisher | December 16, 2008; 8:16 AM ET | Comments (12)

Time To Go Easy On Bars That Serve Teens?

Jim Graham, the D.C. council member whose district includes the watering holes of Adams Morgan and U Street, has long been the city's tough guy on underage drinking. When clubs get nabbed for serving minors, Graham is often first on the scene, shining the light of publicity on the offenders and calling for the nightspots to be shut down. But now Graham is the leader of a move to lighten penalties for establishments caught serving underage customers. Instead of being slapped with a $1,000 fine and a two-day suspension of their liquor licenses for a first offense, bars that...

By Marc Fisher | December 15, 2008; 8:28 AM ET | Comments (11)

This Is How Georgetown Goes Generic

Even as retailers put on a cheerful face for Christmas shoppers, the pain is palpable and spreading. At Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW -- the place Georgetown developer Anthony Lanier calls "the corner of Main and Main" -- the hurt takes the form of customers who just aren't there anymore. "I can't tell you how many people I run into now who say, 'Oh, Nathans, I used to go there all the time,' " says Carol Joynt, the owner of the saloon and restaurant that has graced that Georgetown crossroads for four decades. Even before the financial crisis blossomed,...

By Marc Fisher | December 14, 2008; 7:35 PM ET | Comments (1)

Using Your Home & The Inauguration For Charity

This is the time of year when Rick Rose likes to make a donation to his favorite charity. But he's been out of work for a few months, and while he's in a graduate program at Johns Hopkins University, he figured he might have to skip this year's charitable gift. But then came all those stories about people trying to make a bundle by renting out their homes to out-of-towners coming in for Barack Obama's inauguration. Rose had a light bulb moment: "I'd seen a lot of the ads, but I hadn't seen too many stories about people actually...

By Marc Fisher | December 12, 2008; 8:13 AM ET | Comments (3)

Dueling Preferences: Playing The D.C. Lottery Lottery

When the D.C. Council picks a company Tuesday to operate the city's lottery, it will try to determine the best way to spend many millions of taxpayer dollars, provide a trustworthy gambling experience for players and bring the lottery's technology into the digital age. What the council won't do is address the real reason the lottery contract has become a political nightmare and a forbidden topic in the city's top echelons: race. At issue are the District's well-meaning efforts to legislate social change by encouraging big, national companies, such as those that dominate the lottery industry, to team up with...

By Marc Fisher | December 11, 2008; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

Who's That Telling D.C. Not To Keep Its Bars Open Late?

Look, I happen to believe that the D.C. Council's decision last week to let Washington's bars keep serving alcoholic beverages til 5 a.m. during Inauguration Week is the dumbest idea to come out of the Wilson Building this year. But when the sober solons of Capitol Hill put on their schoolmarm hats and start with their lectures to the District government about how to behave like responsible adults, it's time to put personal views aside. Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Robert Bennett of Utah have written a stern note to Mayor Adrian Fenty, your basic first step on...

By Marc Fisher | December 10, 2008; 8:51 AM ET | Comments (29)

While D.C. & Teachers Spar, MoCo Wins Quite A Deal

The contrast could hardly be more stark: As D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee ratchets up the rhetoric in her battle to break the District's teachers union and force a merit pay plan on the city's classroom instructors, Montgomery County last week announced that its public schools have reached a deal in which the county 22,000 teachers and other school staffers will forgo a promised 5 percent pay raise so the schools can try to muddle through the financial crisis without increasing class size or sacking teachers. Montgomery Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast, speaking on today's edition of Raw Fisher Radio...

By Marc Fisher | December 9, 2008; 8:08 AM ET | Comments (12)

The Tragedy of H.R. Crawford

When the history of home rule in Washington is written, the puzzle of Marion Barry will loom large: How could someone so talented have been so self-destructive, historians will ask. How could a great leader who was so committed to grasping power for the downtrodden have come into office and then abused the public trust by turning the District government into a hiring hall for cronies and con artists? But to understand the mysteries of the mayor-for-life, it's necessary to look beyond Barry's oversized personality, to examine a slew of D.C. characters who enabled Barry and who came to...

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

Post-Election Standoff: Guns Across The Potomac

For decades, partisans on both sides of the nation's gun-control debate looked to the Supreme Court as some believers await a sign from the messiah: Someday, the justices would rule, and then, like it or not, we would know. Finally, firearms would be freely available as a basic American right, or they'd be strictly regulated, restricted to limited purposes. But here we are, less than six months after the high court ruled 5 to 4 that the District's ban on handgun possession violated the Constitution's Second Amendment, and the partisans are at their battle stations, arrayed on either shore of...

By Marc Fisher | December 7, 2008; 8:31 AM ET | Comments (3)

What Johnnie Cochran Really Thought About O.J.

It was late, nearing midnight, during O.J. Simpson's murder trial in Los Angeles. Simpson's lead attorney, Johnnie Cochran, had promised me an interview but had warned that we'd have to squeeze it in during off-hours. There weren't many off hours during the insanity of the Trial of the Century. "Meet me at the office late," Cochran said. How late, I asked. "Doesn't matter," Cochran replied. "No matter how late you come, I'll be there." Forty midnights in a row at the office had left the lawyer in a contemplative mood. The spectacle of the Simpson matter had long since...

By Marc Fisher | December 6, 2008; 12:17 PM ET | Comments (19)

Contest Winners: Making Obamas Feel At Home

With the president-elect and the future First Lady making sounds about being more involved in the local community than the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been (would it be possible to be less involved?), I asked readers last week to submit suggestions on how the Obamas could best connect with the Washington area. First, here are the three winners of the contest (if you see your entry here, drop me an email with your name and address and I will send you a prize from the Vast Vat of Values): Winner #1: --From Bpookah: "First and foremost:...

By Marc Fisher | December 5, 2008; 8:23 AM ET | Comments (3)

How Recession-Proof Is Washington Retail?

First, the good news: There are indeed some retailers who are having a banner year right now, smack in the middle of this big mess. For example, wine merchants are doing splendidly, says Thomas Maskey, senior vice president for retail development at the Peterson Companies, the Fairfax-based developer that owns and manages many shopping centers and other retail and residential projects in the Washington area. And discount stores--Price Club, BJ's, Wal-Mart--are doing decently well, at least in comparison to most other retailers, Maskey says. All in all, Washington area retailers are better off than most of the rest of...

By Marc Fisher | December 4, 2008; 1:30 PM ET | Comments (4)

You Wouldn't Really Rather Have A Buick

After 88 years of selling Buicks in Northern Virginia's exurbs, the Dick C. Weaver & Son dealership sold its remaining cars, parts and tools back to General Motors this fall. Someday soon, bailout or not, GM is likely to start severing its ties to hundreds of dealerships, as the old American system of selling cars through locally owned showrooms collapses. At Dick Weaver in Culpeper, the owners figured this was the time to get out, while they could still get some cash back from Detroit. Buicks just weren't selling, with business down by more than 50 percent from last year,...

By Marc Fisher | December 4, 2008; 8:50 AM ET | Comments (2)

D.C.'s Self-Imposed Barrier Against Democracy

For all the complaining the District's government and residents do about our lack of voting rights and our second-class citizenship, there's one dark stain on Washington's democracy that the city could get about cleaning up--but no one has bothered to, for all the wrong reasons. The D.C. Republican Party this week asked the city's highest court to nullify the election last month of Michael Brown to an at-large seat on the D.C. Council. The Republicans contend that when Brown, a perennial candidate for city office as a Democrat, finally won a seat as an independent, he was in violation...

By Marc Fisher | December 3, 2008; 7:50 AM ET | Comments (8)

Maryland Police Play Spies--And Look Like Fools

For years, the Maryland State Police, eager to play anti-terrorist surveillance agents just like the big boys on TV, spied on suburban peace activists who may have been loud, but never posed the slightest threat to the nation or the state. So what did Maryland taxpayers get for their investment in the state police's investigations of 53 people, including lawyers, a candidate for Congress, a leader of an effort to curb military recruiting in Montgomery County high schools, and a sportswriter? Have a look for yourself--it's pitiful. Here's Pat Elder's file, mostly blacked out by police censors who perhaps...

By Marc Fisher | December 2, 2008; 8:13 AM ET | Comments (20)

Who Said The Election's Over? How You Can Still Vote

Your vote won't count, but you can still join the festival of electoral fun that's continuing even now in Minnesota, where the U.S. Senate race pitting the comedian Al Franken against incumbent Norm Coleman remains unresolved. The contest is so close that a few hundred disputed ballots may well make the difference by the time the state Canvassing Board is done resolving questions later this month (probably by the 19th). But don't leave the judging to the judges--join in yourself. You can see many of the disputed ballots here or here. And both the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Minnesota Public...

By Marc Fisher | December 1, 2008; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (3)

 

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