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Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, February 3, 2005; 12:00 PM

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.

Join Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher today in his search for a universal theory that will find meaning in the State of the Union, the Super Bowl, the Michael Jackson trial, Gov. Bob Ehrlich's State of the State and your new tax assessments.

Marc Fisher (The Washington Post)

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In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.

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.

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. Lots of discussion already queued up on today's column, which looks at the internal migration of a family trying to cope with the twin problems of rising land values and struggling public schools. Also a lot of response to Tuesday's column on Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich's outburst at the opening of his State of the State address last week.
Plus all sorts of other wacky stuff, including some anguish and other reactions to WETA's impending move to eliminate all of its classical music programming.
But first, the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to the Music Center at Strathmore, the elegant and intimate new concert hall paid for by Montgomery County and Maryland taxpayers. We're about to witness something that's never happened before in this country: A face-off between two world-class orchestras fighting for audience in the same market, as the National Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony scramble to fill the Kennedy Center and Strathmore, respectively. Music lovers should be the beneficiary, if one or both of the orchestras strays from the orthodox appeal to the elderly and tries a more adventuresome menu of music.
Nay to Delta Airlines for ending the four decades of Washington to New York shuttle service by announcing that it will no longer roll out an extra plane if its hourly shuttle flight is full. Shuttles are only really shuttles if you are guaranteed a seat no matter how many people show up. USAir had already bailed out of that service; now Delta too. No wonder those Chinatown buses are picking up so much business--$20 to New York and it really doesn't take that much longer than the plane with all the getting to and from airports and through security.
Your turn.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. F: Great column today. My wife and I have lived in the same house in Fairfax County (between Herndon and Reston) for over 20 years. Of course, its value has zoomed up, as have the taxes. We're not being forced out, but some of our neighbors on fixed incomes are. One solution would be to cut property taxes to force the county government to ease off on spending, BUT, then everyone affected screams, and the cycle continues -- more tax $$ in and more county spending. Please provide a solution.

Marc Fisher: There is no easy solution, of course. That's because there is no free lunch. (One more cliche and I have to go sit in the penalty box.) The more people who move into a county, the more it has to build schools, sewers and the like. That costs money. Sure, there have been occasional windfalls to the tax man as property values go up, but as several Post stories this week have shown, homeowners get both the good and the bad--their home value shoots up, but their taxes do too. The real losers are those who aren't yet in the game, people trying to buy their first house. That's where the solutions need to focus--and that's where the politicians will have to stare down the NIMBYs and push for greater density in close-in communities.

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Columbia, Md.: Dear Marc,
We just moved to Columbia, Md., from Montgomery County because of bad schools and high cost of houses. It took us eight months to find the right house/school/neighborhood combination. It is a sad thing that schools generally are determined by the relative affluence, or lack thereof, of their immediate neighborhoods. Rich districts get better schools and poor districts get bad schools. Of course, it is not as black and white as it seems, no pun intended; but since all children are citizens of a state, shouldn't states or even the federal government guarantee a baseline of "decent education" for all districts? From then on, if wealthier districts can do more for their students, so be it. I am already tired of chasing the "right" schools and my kids are only in elementary school. What do you think?

Marc Fisher: I think we'd all agree with you that there should be a baseline of competence for all schools. But you and I know that whatever resources the state or county might provide, there will be big differences among schools for two big reasons: The better teachers have strong views about where they want to teach, and parent involvement is a powerful indicator of a school's quality. Since parents tend to be vastly more involved in more monied places, poorer communities fall farther behind. How to fix that? One way is to create more mixed-income communities--but we know how popular that idea is.

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Arlington, Va.: Why don't the people in your column today just move to Charles county? Surely they could find a similar property there, no?

Marc Fisher: They don't want to move. And why should they have to? They like their house and its location. Why should the policies of their county and the failure of their county school administrators determine where they live? I think the Curtises are heros for saying that they will not be chased away by poor government decision making.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Marc,
The Curtis's of Croom missed the boat years ago when they decided to look South to Charles Co. for schools, etc. They should have moved to Charles Co. then, while it was still affordable. All of the money they have paid to Charles Co. for tuition could have been used to pay the mortgage on a Charles Co. home, and they would be no worse off, in terms of mortgage debt, than they are now.
Besides, there are more important things in life than a house with no mortgage. They have been penny wise and pound foolish.

Marc Fisher: Well, maybe, but consider that in three years they will own their house free and clear and their children will have completed their schooling. At that point, their demands on the county's resources will be minimal. So why should they have moved? They calculated that paying tuition in Charles County was cheaper--psychically, if not financially--than moving, and I don't know that they were wrong.

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Silver Spring, Md.: You did a nice piece this morning on the couple living in Prince George's County that love their farm house, but don't like the schools or their new neighbors. Socially, they are Charles County folks or if you're into the whole brevity thing: Chuck County folks. Anyhew, did you ever ask the couple during your researching the article whether the family in question could find something similar in Charles County that they could live with? I an an African-American college graduate and my wife has her MBA from Johns Hopkins. Is it OK with them if we move into their neighborhood? Can we move to Charles County if we don't like the schools in P.G. or are we in danger of being burned out by the locals? Just wondering. Maybe these people don't like having neighbors at all. I can dig that. I've had neighbors that kept to themselves and decline to socialize. Prince George's County wasn't so terrible that they couldn't buy a nice inexpensive piece of real estate, but the schools aren't up to snuff, so it's alright to badmouth. These folks just need to sell and move to Charles or Prince William or the moon where there are no neighbors. Their attitude didn't really come across as the type of folks that I'd want to move in next to. There's other places to live--they should figure that out too and go on and move.

Marc Fisher: I didn't get the sense at any point that this family was driven to shift its life to southern Maryland by race. Not at all. It's not as if they chose to go to some lily white suburb--to the contrary, they sent their kids to a school that is 42 percent black, and they have deeply ingrained themselves in that community.
I agree that the latest developments in the Charles house burnings case raises disturbing questions about the prospects for racial harmony in southern Maryland, but I have heard many black families make exactly the same case that the Curtises are making about Prince George's. They're not badmouthing--they're truthtelling.

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Sleep deprived, Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.: Marc,

Do you have any intel as to why multiple helicopters were hovering around downtown this morning around 3 a.m.? I noticed them later this morning as well, around 7 a.m.

Marc Fisher: News to me. Anyone?

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Arlington, Va.: How exactly do property taxes go to the schools? It is by district? County? Please say not by district... that's just wrong.

Marc Fisher: It's generally done by county, and each jurisdiction has its own formula for distributing money, but generally they try to be equitable, with extra money going to schools that have extra needs--high proportions of non-English speaking kids, or kids from poor families.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc --
There has been a quiet revolution in DC, which has been largely unheralded. I'm talking about snow removal and how the city deals with storms. On my sleepy residential street I counted four plows last weekend, when in the past it wouldn't have been plowed at all. I was out driving within a few hours after it stopped snowing, and it was as if it had never snowed. There is so much salt out on the streets that it blows up into the air and you can taste it. This is really a shocking change from not that long ago, when the city's snow policy could be summed up in four words: "It will melt eventually." Yet no one seems to talk about it. What gives?

Marc Fisher: Good of you to notice. I've been very impressed by the change. This has been a real achievement of the Williams administration, and, like in so many other areas, the city government has received little or no credit for this. Now, if they can just finally do something about the car inspection station....

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University Park, Md.: Mr. Fisher:

You had a great column on Tuesday about Maryland Gov. Ehrlich demanding to be respected while completely disregarding other state leaders.

There is a level of pettiness that seems misplaced -- as you noted, giving local leaders prominent seats for the State of the State address except for Doug Duncan and Martin O'Malley.

The current governor wants to take credit for everything good and pass the blame to someone else for everything that might be distasteful.

It seems that the governor is more interested in creating issues and divisions than working toward solutions. I haven't met him, but it seems that he can be quite charming when he wants to be.

Have you met him? Any thoughts on what's behind his approach to getting along (or, not getting along)?

washingtonpost.com: Ehrlich Gets More Respect Than He Gives (Potomac Confidential, Feb. 1)

Marc Fisher: I've found Ehrlich to be quite charming and even idealistic in some ways. He's more of a libertarian than his GOP colleagues like to let on. But he's also a calculating pol and his current approach to Maryland government and to his reelection effort is Rovian--he is searching for wedges to overcome the Democrats' huge advantage in party affiliation, and I think he's making considerable progress. Every time he cries out for slots or bans the Baltimore Sun reporters or slams the Democrats, he is winning votes, even if some of us think he's acting boorishly.

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Southern Maryland: Good column about Bob Ehrlich on Tuesday. The item about Paul Pinsky at the end sounds like what happened at the ground breaking for the Hughesville bypass in Charles County. During the ceremony, Ehrlich berated some of the Democratic legislators, pointing out that they opposed that hike in vehicle registration fees that will pay for the bypass. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Congressman, refused to take a seat and lectured Ehrlich for bringing such a political tone to the event.

I'm not a member of either political party, and I think both Ehrlich and Hoyer were being self-serving and childish. But Hoyer had a legitimate point. First, a lot of speaking time was given to Tony O'Donnell, who was then the lone Republican legislator in Southern Maryland. Second, Ehrlich pointed out Brad Jewitt in the audience, the guy who ran against Hoyer in the election just a few days before. I can't think of a good reason for a former mayor of Berwyn Heights to be at this event, except as a passive-aggressive slam on Hoyer.

Sorry to bore you with all this detail, but I thought you might like more evidence of our elected officials acting like second-graders.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--I wish I could say I'm surprised.

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Arlington, Va.: I read your article about the Prince George's County couple that sends their kids to Charles county schools. I can empathize with them concerning the rising real estate taxes. In Arlington, we have a city council that has decided it needs 15-20 percent annual increases from residential real estate taxes, even though the school aged population is actually declining. Last year was a great example. Assessments increased by an average of 14 percent. The council disingenuously "cut" the real estate tax rate by a couple cents, meaning that our increase was only 13 percent. How generous of them. The average assessment increased by 24 percent this year and we can look forward to double-digit percentage increases in our tax bills again. A few more years of these increases and I'll start looking for a job in another city. Will we soon reach a tipping point where suburbanites will demand tax relief, or has this area become so affluent that no one really cares about paying higher taxes?

Marc Fisher: There are pockets of serious anti-tax sentiment in the area, but no real sense of a rising tide against higher taxes. To the contrary, what I hear is a lot of clamoring for more money for school construction and for support of Metro expansion and other transportation improvements. Remember that the rising property taxes are accompanied by the startlingly consistent increases in home values, and for those who are already in the game, that salves a lot of the wound of higher taxes.

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Property Assessments: "The real losers are those who aren't yet in the game, people trying to buy their first house. That's where the solutions need to focus--and that's where the politicians will have to stare down the NIMBYs and push for greater density in close-in communities."

Good idea, Marc. I would also favor a fixed deduction on the assessed value of the home before calculating the property tax. That would help not only first-time home buyers but also fixed-income seniors who have long since paid off their mortgages.

Property-tax caps for seniors are being debated in my community. The seniors are opposed to any means testing being a part of that relief, and they have a point when they equate means testing with welfare.

Marc Fisher: I'm with you as far as first time buyers go, but for the old folks, I don't get the opposition to means testing. I fail to see why the government should be in the business of handing out extra cash to people who are already doing well.

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Snow removal: If only the Williams Administration would enforce the "shovel within 24-hours" rule...

A pox on every house that does not shovel the entire sidewalk in front of their property.

By the way, when I fall and break something in front of the Pepco substation at 11th & O, can I sue them for not shoveling?

Marc Fisher: Good luck. But it's worth a try. It is too often the big institutions in town that fail to shovel their walks. When I see frail retirees in my neighborhood out there in the snow, shoveling away, my blood boils over the fat "non-profits" and corporations that don't bother to de-ice their walks. When the National Rifle Association was still at their Mass Ave NW headquarters, they were among the leading scofflaws; now that that building is a Marriott, it's finally a walkable bit of sidewalk. Next big snow, let's collect the names of businesses and institutions that don't shovel their walks.

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Arlington, Va.: I know I am kicking a very dead horse, but I think the recent snow storms reconfirmed the DC area as the most pathetic region ever, weather-wise that is. Let's take the Inauguration Eve "blizzard." Wasn't it 1 inch or less in most areas, with drifts up to 2 inches? I can confirm that this just paralyzed the area. I had plans to drive from Washington to Rockville that evening, but I turned around after it took me 45 minutes to move about 1 mile. Then there was the promised "4-10 inches" that turned out to be 2-3 inches. The following day I was watching Channel 8 and saw that they just wouldn't give up on the idea that this was a major storm. They had one of their reporters out for one of those stupid live shots on Wisconsin Avenue to warn us that even though Wisconsin was clear, the side street -- egads! -- still was snow-covered. I think the effect was ruined when three cars managed to negotiate the street-of-death in the background. That day (the day after) I drove from Annapolis to Tysons to Rockville to Arlington. I heard warnings all day about "blowing snow" but in my travels did not encounter one flake blowing in my path.

Marc Fisher: Here's a question: Why don't the TV news folks care at all about their credibility? When they hype the heck out of snow events that dump all of an inch or so on our area, don't they think that viewers will grow cynical on them? Isn't their credibility important to them?

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Arlington, Va.: I remember the Car Talk guys trying to mount a campaign a couple of years ago about the excess amount of salt jurisdictions use during snow situations. My car went from Kelly Green to Himalaya White in a few minutes driving, which is kind of ridiculous given the meager snow totals we were hit by.

Marc Fisher: Well, I think our cars got so heavily salted in large part because there was so little snow. The salt crews had prepped for a much bigger storm and then the moisture didn't arrive to dissolve the salt pellets. So chalk that one up to the lousy forecasting and media hype.

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University Park, Md.: WETA's plan to drop most or all music programming is despicable. We stopped giving when they cut back on music a few years ago. Apparently our message was too subtle. For shame!

Marc Fisher: Or consider the possibility that your message was received as exactly the opposite of what you intended. In fact, public radio managers firmly believe, based on the market research that they so deeply love, that music listeners are far less generous than news and talk listeners. That's the driving force behind the gradual death of classical, jazz, bluegrass and other non-pop forms of music on public radio.

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Frederick, Md.: I see where Martha Stewart is going to host an Apprentice show. Is she going to judge contestants on how well they mop floors and microwave their meals?

Marc Fisher: And don't forget shuffling to meals and proper etiquette in group showers.

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Leesburg, Va.: Your column earlier this week, comparing the two govs, describes Mark Warner as calculating as he pauses before responding to a question. I'm not lacking in cynicism, but I prefer to frame that as Warner actually thinking before he speaks. That's not a bad trait, especially in a politician.

Warner's no orator, and I certainly don't see him as a presidential contender, but he's a decent enough guy and a more than competent manager of the Commonwealth's affairs. I wouldn't trade him for anyone like Bobby Haircut. I really do feel sorry for Marylanders. Virginia hasn't had a governor that bad since... well, since Jim Gilmore. With Gilmore, we hadn't seen anyone that bad since... well, George Allen.

Hmmm. I guess Maryland isn't so unlucky after all.

Marc Fisher: I didn't mean that at all as a slam against Warner's performance as governor. His achievements last session were genuine and he has done far better than Ehrlich in dealing with his place as a governor from a distinctly minority party. My point was that Warner remains unusually skittish in his dealings with reporters--he's far less forthcoming than most people at that level, and that limits his ability to get a good dialogue going with the people of his state.

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McLean, Va. WETA Listener: Interesting response, Marc. I guess that makes me an exception. I have continued giving to WETA, and have stopped giving to WAMU because WETA retained music, while WAMU largely dropped it. If WETA drops music, I'll redirect my donation. Maybe I'll give it to the Arlington Animal Welfare in your name ... (HA!)

Marc Fisher: Hahaha!
I'm willing to bet that you will end up directing some of that money to a satellite radio company of your choice, as will many former public radio listeners who don't understand why WAMU and WETA choose to air the same programs at the same time.

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Another quick snow question: Marc,

I grew up in the Baltimore area (no, not the infamous Herferd Zone) in the 70s and 80s and can vividly remember schlepping to the school bus up a snowy street and the buses driving on snowy roads. What has changed so much in our mentality that even regular cars won't drive on snowy streets anymore?

Marc Fisher: The cars go just fine. It's the people behind the wheels who have become such wusses. And that is encouraged by the lawyer-fearing bureaucracies that shut down schools at the first rumor of a flake.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: What's the 411 on the Michael Jackson trail outside of California? How is the trail being perceived?

Marc Fisher: And where does that trail lead? Is it a tended trail, or has it become overgrown by the ravages of time?
Oh--trial--never mind.
Speaking of the Gloved One, if anybody hears a Michael Jackson song on the radio, please shoot me an email. It says here that you won't hear a single tune from MJ for the duration of this trial. Next Oprah: MJ and Sinatra--Great Artists, Bad People?

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Local TV News Credibilty: Marc,

It's clear to me they don't care about credibility. For example, two nights ago, Fox5 ran a promo saying, "Are Iraqi militants holding a U.S. Serviceman hostage?". It had already been proven earlier in the afternoon that it was a doll.

Marc Fisher: Doncha just love those phony teasers? My kids actually fall for them sometimes, and I tell them that there is no such story, or that it's wholly bogus, and they don't believe me. They want to see for themselves, which I guess is a useful exercise for a kid. But are there really adults who fall for those ruses?

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Metro D.C.: So what do you think of the new Examiner paper?

I have to say that I was rather disappointed in it. It feels like it's trying to hard to be "hip and cool". Also, what's with their story about you and the Pulitzer nomination? At the end they essentially call it a controversy and compare it to the Janet Cooke thing, give me a break!

Marc Fisher: I had high hopes for the new tabloid in town. I love a snappy, sassy tab--something we haven't had here in my 19 years around these parts. But so far, I am underwhelmed. The paper is a bit of a mess, and it's awfully thin on local content. They're even using wires to cover local sports teams.
Their gossip column ran an item on me today, and as you note, they somehow managed to compare an attempt to honor the memory of the late Marjorie Williams with the Janet Cooke scandal. That's pretty low.

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G'burg (home)/SW, D.C. (work): I heard this morning on WTOP that a decision on the InterCounty Connector might be a huge step closer to happening, but didn't catch why (chatterbox carpool). Do you know?

Marc Fisher: The Maryland parks and planning commission is supposed to vote on the ICC today. Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch was at the Post the other day and he said that the highway is "a done deal." Obviously the opponents disagree, and are still fighting, but it sure does look like everything is greased for this one. Hey, what the heck--it's only a few billion for a road that even its backers admit won't do diddly to relieve traffic on the Beltway.

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Temple Hill, Md: Marc, have you ever written a positive story about Prince George's County? For that matter, The Post? After reading your column, I remembered why I cancelled my subscription.

Marc Fisher: Glad to have you aboard as a reader even if you did cancel your subscription.
I've never known quite how to classify columns as positive or negative. Is it positive or negative when I write, as I often have, on the evils of slots and how unfair it is to propose that slots palaces be dumped in Prince George's County? I think of that as positive--as part of an effort to save the county from being saddled with slots. Maybe you call it negative. As a reader, I'd far rather read about what's wrong and think about how to fix it than have someone list everything that's going swimmingly.

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Arlington, Va.: Is the Rev. Moon behind the Washington Examiner?

Marc Fisher: No, that's the other one, the Times. Wonder what they think of the new paper in town. The new one is owned by the guy who owns the DC United soccer team, Anschutz.

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My favorite teaser: During the Aleve(?)'will kill you' dust up, one of the local news channels ran a teaser that essentially said, "A popular pain medication could present serious health risks. Find out more after this." So, we're not going to tell you which pill sitting in your cupboard could kill you, until after some commercials.

Marc Fisher: The code words in those teasers are "could," "may" and the always popular threat posed in question form--"Are terrorists living in the abandoned Chevy in front of YOUR house?" All of these are cues to switch over to the Valparaiso game on ESPN6.

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Columbia, Md.: As for the snow issue, I live in Howard County and grew up in the snow belt in central N.Y. Congrats to the Ho. Co. schools that didn't close early or open late with the latest snow "storms" even though every one else did.

Marc Fisher: Parents appalled by the eagerness of local school systems to take extra days off should invest in banners that we could string over highway overpasses congratulating and thanking systems that stay open even when wet.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think about Marion Barry's salary being garnished?

Marc Fisher: It satisfies like a good release of bodily toxins.

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Clifton, Va.: Most reliable weather forecasting NOAA Weather Radio and Accuweather. AccuWeather.com. Firefighters subscribe to professional paid weather forecasting for a reason. The local channels need to get rid of the old guys and say bye Doug and Bob and even Topper and go with hot female eye candy like Jillain Barberie on Fox NFl show. It's not like the accuracy would drop.

Marc Fisher: Absolutely. I want to go back to the days of weather girls and strange weather men who fondled stuffed animals and leering weather men who dipped in and out of camera range and made goofy noises. Bring back clown weather folk and I will even sit through the news with Mr. Testosterone on 9.

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WETA doesn't get unsubtle messages, either: My husband and I have always made it clear that our Leadership Circle membership at WETA ($1K+) was in response to what we liked about the MUSIC programming, and that we were reluctant to give some years because of cuts in the MUSIC programming, but stayed the course because they retained at least some MUSIC programming. This is just a power play -- they want a bigger share of the audience they fight over with WAMU so they can have cooler studio space, etc. (and I was an avid volunteer for years so I know from studio space).

The previous poster was right. For shame.

Marc Fisher: Exactly. They really don't care about your generosity because they believe that there are far more folks out there who will shell out the bucks for NPR News, which of course is a first-class news operation. The foundation of public radio, the idea that there should be an outlet for forms of music and culture that will never win huge ratings numbers, has dissolved utterly.

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Hizzoner: Marion Barry's salary is being garnished? Please do tell!

Marc Fisher: See the story in today's Post--this stems from the dispute between the councilman and his ex-campaign manager.

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Bowie, Md. School Admin (on sick leave!): Marc

I have been a school administrator (school based) for a long time in Prince George's. Please don't think all of us are incompetent. The vast, vast majority of people that I have worked with over 30 years break their necks to do what is best for students. Give us the resources and the community involvement to help us.

Marc Fisher: I've been in too many excellent classes with too many dedicated teachers in the county to say that the system is totally broken. But it sure could use more inspired leadership than it now has. And it has failed to stem the tide of parents who are fleeing in search of safer and more academically challenging environments for their kids.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: You wonder what the Washington Times thinks of the Examiner? Gosh, I guess you missed your own paper's story on the Examiner, co-written by Frank Ahrens:

"Washington Times Editor in Chief Wesley Pruden said he welcomes any new publication to Washington. 'We need all the help we can to get the 800-pound gorilla to dance,' he said, referring to The Post."

So, maybe you didn't want to admit what the Post looks like when it dances? I'm thinking Elaine, on "Seinfeld"...

Marc Fisher: Any paper, any institution of this size and stature should be dancing all the time. Anything that makes us dance more is good for the community.

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Silver Spring, Md.: When you speak of greater density in close-in communities, do you mean tearing down small houses on small lots --like the ones in Silver Spring -- to build McMansions? What about sending some of that growth to shrinking communities in Baltimore, Southwestern Virginia, and Penn., that have lost so many manufacturing jobs?

Marc Fisher: I don't see how McMansions qualify as added density. To the contrary, they prevent the higher and denser building that is demanded by transit-oriented planning.

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Waldorf, Md.: The subjects of your column today understandably love their community ... Croom is a beautiful community seemingly hours away from the hustle and bustle of DC. Actually, it's almost an extension of Charles County ... it's so very different from the more urbanized Northern section of PG County. Depending on where their house is, they could literally be across the street from Charles County. Why should they move?

Marc Fisher: Right--they're actually a couple of miles away, but still your point is a good one.

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Northwest D.C.: Not a regular viewer/listener of WETA. What really frosts my shorts is their annoying, incessant pleas for money when it's headed by a Rockefeller. That's like Michael Jackson opening a day care center.

Marc Fisher: A good late stab at threadweaving.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

You failed to mention the biggest cause for the discrepancy of fund dispersal to schools, special education. The downside to mainstreaming is that it costs a HECK of a lot of money and that money, of course, has to come from somewhere.

Marc Fisher: Very good point.

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Burtonsville, Md.: Marc, I enjoyed your piece a few weeks back on "eclectic" radio programming. A few years back I became a fan of KCRW Santa Monica's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" show and have listened regularly on my office computer. The only thing I've found locally that comes close is Towson University's WTMD (89.7 FM) which is a non-commercial station with a largely eclectic format (they certainly are more likely than local commercial stations to mix artists of disparate backgrounds -- where else can you hear James Brown, Chuck Brown and George Clinton in the mix with indie folk and rock artists?) Hard to pick up south of the beltway, but readily available on the internet. Have you heard it?

Marc Fisher: I haven't, but I will seek it out. I can't get it here in the District, but next time I'm driving that way, I'll give it a listen.

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Arlington, Va.: Your characterization of the new anchor on channel 9 seems quite apt. I have not watched their newscasts, but he certainly comes across that way in the promos. What has poor Tracy Neale gotten herself into?

Marc Fisher: Wasn't she so much better back on Fox?

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Fairfax, Va.: If you like dancing, then you'd like Ellen DeGeneres's talk show. She dances every day and gets the audience to. Me, I think the whole thing's tired.

Marc Fisher: Speaking of dancing, I have to go do a few steps. We're over our limit. Thanks for coming along--back in the paper Tuesday and here with you next week at the usual time.

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washingtonpost.com: Barry Liable In Campaign Manager's Pay Claim (Post, Feb. 13)

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