Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion of the latest news and a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.
Today, Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher talks about the face-off between Maryland and Virginia as the quest for a baseball team moves into its final phase, Congress' threat to stop slots in Washington before they start and much more.
(The Washington Post)
This Week's Columns:
Next Time, Terror Could Ride the Rails (Post, July 15)
Doing More Than Rooting for The Home Team (Post, July 13)
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, warriors and peaceniks alike. The gun wars are back in Virginia, which is one big old Western movie stage set, at least the way legislators see the state. Today's Page One story about folks wearing guns strapped to their hips is chilling indeed, but that's the law. When I lived in Florida, which boasted a similar law, it was routine to see men walking along city streets with a weapon holstered around their waist. My instinct was to look around for the movie cameras, but there were none to be seen.
Today's column asks just what's so hard about deciding that it's not too smart to send freight trains laden with explosive chemicals through the heart of terrorist target Washington. Tuesday's offering was a look on All-Star day at how the pure form of the game of baseball unites a town in the Shenandoah Valley.
Your comments and questions, after the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to the Montgomery County Council for calling northern Virginia on its divisive appeal for a baseball team that would serve the Dulles corridor, but would spurn fans from Maryland and the District. The council came out in support of Washington's baseball bid. A Virginia bid focused on a site in Arlington or Alexandria likely would have won support from Montgomery, but Virginia decided to go it along, and now that's just what they are.
Nay to congressional busybodies who are now threatening to take action against the District should voters approve the slots initiative that might be on the ballot this fall. Sure, slots are a lousy idea, but Congress should think about, say, securing the nation's railroads, not about meddling in Washington's affairs.
A Post article today Guns Worn In Open Legal, But Alarm Va. (Post, July 15) described how people can openly carry weapons into stores and other private establishments. Can a private establishment ban firearms on its premises, or does Virginia's open carry law override the rights of private property owners?
Marc Fisher: Excellent question and I don't know what the law says, but I do know that "No Guns" signs are fairly common on the doors of restaurants around Virginia. Anyone have the answer?
I read with alarm the article on the Va "open carry" law that says you can carry a loaded, unconcealed gun in public. The encounters described happened in a Starbucks, a restaurant and the town center. Do you know, do the establishments have the right to kick out anyone openly carrying a gun? I ask b/c the Daily Show had a story a few weeks ago about a New Mexico (I think) senator who wanted to make it a right to carry a gun into a bar (as in, the owners could not kick the person out b/c of the gun). I'd be interested to know what role the NRA had in the passage of this law.
Marc Fisher: The gun lobby is one of the most active and pervasive in Richmond, and it's fun to tag along with the lobbyists and listen in as legislators bow and shuffle.
Whaddya mean I'm not allowed to shoot bottle tops off my beers? Care to step outside so I can teach you the meaning of the Second Amendment?
Pistol Packin' Papa
Marc Fisher: You'll recall that it was just a few months ago that police in Virginia started following customers out of bars to nab them for public drunkenness even before they'd set foot in a car, and even when some of those folks were already waiting for a taxi because they knew they shouldn't be driving. So it's ok to carry a gun into a bar, but you'll be nabbed if you actually consume a couple of drinks.
Hi Marc, If MLB decides that Northern Virginia should be the new home for the Expos, could we expect a new push for an "outer" beltway?
Marc Fisher: Well, it stands to reason that a Dulles stadium would be best served by some new roads, and since there are so few people within easy reach of that site at rush hour, and attendance on week nights would therefore be minimal, then you can bet developers will want a new Potomac bridge and a highway link to Maryland.
That said, the opposition to that sort of road and bridge is so intense that it won't happen in this generation. A new river crossing makes sense much closer in toward downtown, but not near there.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Thank you for today's column. I hope you get a Pulitzer for it. (I live in Rock Creek Forest, about a mile from the CSX tracks, so I hope I live to see you collect it ...)
Marc Fisher: Thanks--lots of reaction today from rail buffs and from rail safety advocates, many of whom point out another glaring problem that the feds have failed to address: Hazardous materials rail cars carry large and prominent signs indicating exactly what kind of explosive matter they hold. Federal regulations require these signs. Do they make sense in an era of terrorist threat?
washingtonpost.com: Guns Worn In Open Legal, But Alarm Va. (Post, July 15)
I found your column on trains and terrorism interesting and scary. Not knowing much about the freight trains carry, I had not realized that trains could be so lethal if targeted. Do you worry that you may have given some terrorist group a good idea?
Marc Fisher: This question always comes up when reporting on terrorism, and it's a natural and good question. But the oceans of information that are readily available make it simply silly to avoid public discussion that could result in pressure to make our infrastructure safer. Without public conversation and pressure, the politicians will only react to what has already happened and will have little incentive to stand up to industry defenders and demand changes.
After reading today's front page I was hoping you could tell me what type of gun and holster are most appropriate for business casual Friday's?
Marc Fisher: I'll ask Robin Givhan to see if she can offer some fashion tips on this pressing matter. Can you imagine the embarrassment, the shame of walking into a fine eatery with a leather holster over a silk suit?
Considering all of the windowless buildings that exist in Reston/Herndon/Chantilly, maybe the name for a baseball team should be International Men of Mystery? Shagadelic baby!
Marc Fisher: The Virginia IMMs? "Hit IMM hard!"
We got started last week on your recommended names for our Expos, should they come to Washington or Virginia.
Come ahead with your ideas and I'll launch those trial balloons later this hour.
Save our Frank!:
My only reason for having satellite (OK, including BBC America) is about to start again. NFL Ticket from DirecTV. And what is a Redskins game without the sound on the TV turned down and the radio turned up. Well, this is the first time in this girl's memory that she will have to listen to the broadcasts. WJFK, a tasteless and crass station, has fired Frank Herzog from the Redskins booth. Remember this travesty in January! Please, sign a petition. I don't know these guys, but I have listened to Frank ever since he began the radio broadcasts, and I want him back!
The petitions can be found at Bring Back Frank Herzog
Marc Fisher: Then you'll be glad to see the item in today's sports section announcing that Herzog will be back on the Redskins broadcasts, but only on TV and only on the preseason action aired by Channel 9. The radio side is sticking with its highly unpopular decision.
Marc, I missed the chat last week, but read the response to my question from the previous week as to why Metro must run trains in even numbers (4-car, 6-car trains). Thanks to you and the reader who provided us with that information!
Marc Fisher: We're here to help. Also to annoy. And to whine. And to raise scary questions. Speaking of which....
So Marc, let's ask the unthinkable question -- does a terrorist attack on the rails lock up Bush's reelection? Of course, this assumes that Diebold et. al. actually count the votes correctly.
Marc Fisher: I get a lot of mail on this question, and while it seems ghoulish even to entertain it, it's certainly up there on the minds of many voters. An answer would require getting into the heads of terrorists--not an easy task. Those who study al-Qaeda say that they're not a partisan organization, that their primary goal is terror, and they don't particularly care whether the Dems or the Repos are running things here. That said, an October surprise from bin Laden would almost certainly ensure the president's reelection--Americans have a long and solid history of rallying around the flag in times of trouble. Would al-Qaeda therefore refrain from an attack in hopes of getting more of the policies they want from a different administration? Hard to imagine. They're all about destruction, fear and publicity, and they'll take it when and where they can get it.
washingtonpost.com: Herzog Is Back at the Mike (Post, July 15)
Routing dangerous materials via rail lines through metropolitan areas? Gee, how much risk could that be? I mean nothing bad has happened in Baltimore-Washington area in what, two years?
Or does nobody in D.C. remember the little incident up in Baltimore? And that was without terrorists. But we still route dangerous cargo through downtowns all the time. We never learn.
Marc Fisher: What's remarkable about this is how easy the fix would be. But it would require standing up to the rail industry and its threats of lawsuits.
Marc, for heavens sake! How are the first responders to know what they're up against if the rail cars aren't placarded? Trucks have to be placarded too, and the DOT system uses numbers. You either have to know the system or have access to the book. Isn't the rail system similar? Think of how many lives could be lost if the fire and medic personnel have to take the time to figure out what's leaking.
Marc Fisher: Sure, plenty of people--first responders, rail workers, yard workers--have to know what's in those cars. But that can be effectively communicated without big, colorful signs that are easily understood by any layman. Many industries have developed internal codes that communicate essential information to trained workers, without losing time or efficiency.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Marc, I live in the Woodside neighborhood of Silver Spring, less than a block from the r/r tracks. Almost every day, a freight train stops in that area for a significant length of time -- and the security of those tracks is non-existent.
I guess I can be comforted that I don't need to bother trying to run away.
Marc Fisher: Right, the plume will cover your house in seconds. And it is hard to imagine a good way to secure the thousands of miles of track in this country. But shouldn't there be an effort to make it harder to launch an attack via rail in the heart of the Washington and New York areas? Securing the obvious targets seems the least that could be done.
Thanks for answering my question on trains and terrorism. I agree that if the information on that sort of thing is already widely available -- and I will take your word on that -- it is good to report on it and make the public at large aware of the issue. Maybe it will help us secure ourselves.
Marc Fisher: Thanks very much.
Working at FEMA HQ, which is located directly next to the set of railroad tracks you mentioned in your column today, I share your concern about the terrorist possibilities of transporting hazardous materials. However, I cannot believe that someone besides Mr. Millar wanted to take up this issue. What about the Metropolitan Council of Governments? All the local committees under the EPA Right-to-Know Act that are supposed to be responsible for things like this. And what about the Department of Homeland Security's Office of National Capital Region Coordination? Aren't they part of the same administration that wanted to shut down National Airport permanently after 9/11?
Marc Fisher: Millar has made presentations to several local government bodies, and all expressed concern and interest. But all said they want the District to move first on this issue, and D.C. council member Kathy Patterson tells me this morning that her initiative to ban such shipments in the city will move ahead in the council in September.
I'm not clear on the exact details, but in the past year or two, Minnesota passed a gun law that I believe allows open carry. At any rate, after it passed, churches, malls, stores, etc., started posting signs on their doors that stated "This establishment bans guns from its premises."
Marc Fisher: Yes, that's the sort of sign I've seen in many shop windows, particularly out in the Shenandoah Valley and in Central Virginia.
"No Guns" signs in bars and restaurants? Where are you eating? I can't remember seeing that anywhere. I travel around the state fairly frequently.
Marc Fisher: Maybe we're eating at different places. The last place I saw one of those signs was at the Southern Kitchen in New Market.
Not exactly on topic but just wanted to thank you for exposing the Shenandoah Valley to your readers. The baseball is a cool part of it, but from Winchester to a long ways down I-81, the natural beauty of the valley and the relaxed pace of the small towns are the America as many know and love it. Fairs, bake sales, yard sales, little league ball, seeing people you know every where you go, it is a joy, and woe to us as the wave of suburbia approaches.
Cruising Manhattan on a slow traffic day, as I did July 5th can be a pleasure, but that can't compare to taking a short drive in the country on your way to work, every day.
Marc Fisher: And guns! And restaurants that prohibit guns! The valley's got it all. No, seriously, it's a fab place for a weekend trip.
Can we expect to see members of MS-13 and other local gang members with guns on their hips? Welcome to the Wild Wild Suburbs!
Marc Fisher: I'm trying to figure out what we'll hear from those people who object when the police stop suspected MS-13 gangbangers because they're wearing a "13" belt buckle. "It's perfectly legal to carry a few guns on your person, and those gang markings could just be teen fashion!"
So Starbucks puts up a sign and people come in with guns anyway. What would their recourse be? These people are packing loaded guns and they want their caffiene.
Marc Fisher: This is a job for the Armed Baristas of America--The ABA rides to the rescue of coffee drinkers who want their Starbucks break unsullied by all those rude folks who load their weapons on the all-too-small coffee tables. The ABA knows you don't want bullets rolling around on the sugar and milk stand, and the ABA will stand tall for your rights!
Texas has a law aganst carry a gun into any establishment that serves alcoholic beverages. 'Makes sense.
Marc Fisher: Sense. What the heck does that have to do with our god-given rights?
Re: Carrying Guns:
What's scary is that I know many otherwise rational people who believe that gun control advocates have a hidden agenda to ban all gun ownership, or even to turn America socialist. How do you counter attitudes like that?
Marc Fisher: I don't counter the part about banning all gun ownership, because that's precisely what I advocate. But how you get from there to socialism--that's the jump that makes me worry about having all those folks out there carrying guns.
Somewhere on L Street, Washington, D.C.:
Marc: I can't imagine that al Qaeda would not 'want' Bush reelected. Everything I have read has said that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been the ultimate recruiting tool for Islamic radicalism.
Also, I am not certain that a terrorist attack would work in Bush's favor. I think many "middle of the road" folks would take it as proof of failure, as in "You had three years to make sure this wouldn't happen again and you didn't get it done."
Marc Fisher: Could be. But think of how hamstrung Kerry would be by a late-campaign attack. He'd be hard pressed to slam the administration while the nation was mourning a loss. Anything constructive he might say would likely come off as back seat driving and unpatriotic carping. He'd be in a heck of a tough spot, and Bush would be out there being highly presidential.
I don't understand your thinking -- Wouldn't a successful terrorist attack show that the current administration hasn't done enough to prevent terrorism?
Marc Fisher: Sure, but the administration could easily, and correctly, say that they'd warned us all along that another attack was definitely coming, and that nothing can stop that in an open society (even if they have tried to make this a less open society.) And while your response is the rational one, the immediate aftermath of an attack is an emotional time, and the American tradition is to rally around the president in such a moment.
I give the Nay of the Week to President Bush for not showing up to the NAACP convention, a move which looks even stupider after Kerry's speech this morning.
Marc Fisher: Well, showing up would have been the courageous and ballsy thing to do, but there's really no political downside for Bush to spurn the NAACP. There weren't many votes to win over there, and Bush's base likely responds well to the vision of him standing up against an NAACP that has criticized him so vehemently.
Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.:
Marc, are there any laws against openly carrying a holstered snakehead in Virginia?
Marc Fisher: You are permitted to carry or wear snakeheads in Virginia if and only if they are stone cold dead. The District has no law regarding the wearing of snakeheads, but speeding snakeheads must pay double the fee if caught by a camera. In Maryland, there are laws against snakesheads, snakes, heads, holsters, fashion faux pas and carrying anything not personally approved by Doug Duncan.
My home state is starting to really give me the creeps ... you can carry a gun into a restaurant (bet you get good service!) and I just recently saw a new DMV-approved license plate that has a tobacco plant on it and says "Tobacco heritage" -- like it is a good thing! What's next? A license plate spouting our slavery heritage?
Marc Fisher: Wait--you haven't seen those license plates? I personally thought the shackles motif was more than a bit tasteless, but who am I to say?
I'm a GDI (goshdarned independent) and I don't care if the whole East Coast is demolished by terrorists, I am not voting for Bush in November. I'm a GDI and I approved this ad.
Marc Fisher: I know I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm feeling bold enough to say that the Kerry campaign will not be using that in its fall advertising.
10th and Penn, NW, D.C.:
Marc, what is the story about the neverending reconstruction of 10th Street, NW, between E and F Streets (outside Ford's Theatre)? This has been going on forever. Why is it taking so long? (Dr. Gridlock might be a better one to put this one to, I know.)
Marc Fisher: I was just walking there over the weekend and had the same question. But I have no answer. I do know that some very threatening homeless guys have made that construction site their personal playground. It does seem to be a permanent installation. Maybe it's public art.
Marc: Someone (Park Service, D.C. Govt?) deserves credit for finally fixing up Farragut Square. The west side of the park used to have the skinniest sidewalk in downtown combined with some of the heaviest foot traffic (it is sandwiched between Farragut North and Farragut West metro stops). The adjacent grass was continually trampled on by pedestrians just trying to move. They repeatedly tried to replant the grass every couple of years to no avail, resulting in a continued eyesore. Finally, someone came up with the idea of widening the sidewalk and putting in a new, but visually attractive, fence. This improves things dramatically for both square visitors and pedestrians. Someone deserves kudos for this.
Marc Fisher: Sounds nice. I'll have to check it out. At least the above ground area is working. It's the below ground Farragut North Metro station where the ceiling collapsed yesterday. Your Metro maintenance dollars at work.
There are plenty of online chats where Bush-bashing and presidential politics are the sole topic, but not nearly so many Metro area chats. Jeez, enough with the Kerry-Bush questions.
Marc Fisher: Your wish is my command. Back to guns and baseball.
Marc Fisher: Oh, and taxes too....
Taxed in D.C.:
Yesterday, D.C. Council approved $107 million in TIF financing, which basically means that we D.C. tax payers get a museum of crumpled tin downtown, plus some $35,000 parking spaces in Columbia Heights. Also, a very speculative plan for a shopping center that is currently owned by others.
They're not bad projects, but I can't figure out why this was done as emergency legislation without hearings. Oh, wait, yes I can. So Council members wouldn't have to admit that they just gave away $107 million in future tax revenues.
Every other developer is going to want at least that much, and wait until the Major League Baseball starts fleecing us.
Seems like Taxation Without Representation might be better than the representatives we have on the council.
Marc Fisher: The council did indeed seem to go hog wild this week. It was their last session before the summer break so they were feeling generous with someone else's money. I like the Corcoran expansion and surely that will more than earn back the city's investment in new tourist spending. The Columbia Heights project is a great one, but it's run by a highly questionable group and that area is gentrifying so fast that it's hard to justify the need for public investment, when retailers are hungry to reach that market on their own dime.
The Skyland shopping center in Hillcrest is another matter--much more complex. What's there now is just awful. But I find it hard to see how the city can justify just ripping that land away from its rightful owners to put up another of the exact same thing--a shopping center--albeit a potentially much nicer one. Why shouldn't city planners have to work with the existing owners there?
You are in a very snarky mood today. It's awesome!;
Marc Fisher: Gee, thanks.
Farragut West, Washington, D.C.:
Not only did the roof collapse at Farragut North yesterday -- THREE escalators weren't working at Farragut West this morning.
Does it EVER end?
Marc Fisher: Escalators? No, see, the whole idea is that they just keep going and going and going, and you step on when you need them and step off at the top, but the stairs keep moving. They never end.
Oh my, that's it! That's the solution to the mystery of the Metro escalators! Metro didn't know! They thought they were just really big and fancy staircases.
Take Me Out to the Ballga ..., Maine:
New stadium in Virginia? Guns and baseball?
Wild Bill Hickok Bobblehead Night!
Marc Fisher: Bobblehead shooting contests during the 7th inning stretch!
Presumably, the idiots who wear guns into restaurants and coffee shops are wearing guns when they drive the Beltway. Makes you wonder what they would do in a road rage situation.
Just another reason why Maryland is better than Virginia.
Marc Fisher: Yes, but didn't you know, it's illegal to shoot and drive at the same time. As of July 1, you have to get a hands-free device for your gun.
The Virginia baseball team should be named the Senators obviously, but if we want to encourage Virginians from Richmond and beyond, the Rednecks might be more appropriate.
Marc Fisher: Oh, that will reach out to baseball's lost black and Hispanic fans very nicely.
How 'bout a few extra letters on 'Expo' to make them more appropriate for D.C. ...
Marc Fisher: I cannot begin to imagine that team's uniforms.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Am I right that the plans for redeveloping the waterfront area released recently are not coordinated with the Banneker ballpark proposal?
Marc Fisher: Totally uncoordinated. But easily connected if planners cared to do so. A stadium would be the perfect link between the Mall/L'Enfant area and the newly redone Fish Market and waterfront.
Saving Frank's job is no problem, all we need to do is to convince Sonny and Sam to take about a 2 percent pay cut. I'm certain that the Hall of Famers account for the lion's share of the budget. Maybe that is why we have not heard them complaining about losing their long-time partner.
Also, I am not sure how the woman who is attempting to save Frank's job can listen to the radio and watch on satellite, the radio broadcasts in real time and the satellite signal is a couple of seconds behind (more if you have TiVo.)
Marc Fisher: Yeah, isn't that annoying? I can't stand it when I try to keep track of an out of town baseball game by listening to the audio on mlb.com and pulling up the ESPN Gamecast on the Web -- they're wildly out of synch.
Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.:
What exactly is Metro using my $5.30 a day on? Gold-plated dune buggies? Hovercrafts for the board?
Marc Fisher: You wish. Alas, they're using it to pay for new rail cars and maintaining the system and all the basics that other transit systems get from a dedicated source of public revenue. Which we don't have. Which is why Metro is always being squeezed and forever raising its fares.
Do you think that Virginia's Commission for Rail Enhancement for the 21st Century will be able to do anything about dangerous chemical shipments?
Marc Fisher: News to me. Sounds nice.
Children stealing cars seems to be almost epidemic of late. In the District anyway, much of this can be blamed on my beloved city's practically non-existant juvenile laws. Any idea why the Council would prefer to spend its time banning hand-held cell phones while driving (still bad, but nearly as bad as some of the devastating accidents of late) as opposed to working on the kiddie laws?
Marc Fisher: Amazingly, the city's council this week decided NOT to impose minimum sentences on either repeat car thieves or juvenile car thieves. Simply astonishing.
Marc, I just wanted to vent about motorcades and police cars! They are so annoying! (yes, let the whine and cheese fest continue!) I really think that the cops in this city only turn on their lights to avoid traffic. Do you ever see a cop actually at work in NW? And then there are the annoying motorcades! I don't care who is in them, do you think anyone else in D.C. does?
Marc Fisher: Oh, they're working all right. One of them nabbed me this very morning for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign at one of those dead intersections where there's about one car every 20 minutes. And then, remarkably enough, a second squad car pulls up behind the one that stopped me, and they both sat there for 15 minutes, chatting.
I just recently moved from Maryland to Virginia and let me tell you something, I will take Virginia ANY and EVERY day over Maryland! Maryland drivers are rude, don't use their turn signals, stop half a mile behind the car in front of them at a red light, don't follow the traffic laws, are total jerks! At least in Virginia people are aware of their surroundings and DO realize that they are sharing the road with others.
Marc Fisher: We are not repeat not getting into another chapter of our eternal Maryland vs Virginia debate. We are not doing so because our time is up. So we can do that next week. The perfect dog days activity, doncha think?
No question, just a comment. You are a kick-a_ _ guy so keep fighting the good fight!
Marc Fisher: Oh, you're too kind. Thanks all for coming along today. Back in the paper and on the site Sunday and Tuesday, and here with you again same time next Thursday. Keep cool.