Transcript

Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, January 12, 2006; 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher of the latest news and a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

Fisher was online Thursday, Jan. 12, at Noon ET to explore two love-hate relationships: Washington's fascination with Marion Barry and America's relationship with Wal-Mart.

Today's Poll

Today's Column: Memo To Barry: Enough (Post, Jan. 12)

Check out Marc's new blog, Raw Fisher .

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

Archives: Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks.

Got the utility bills this week and all I can say is, thank goodness for global warming.

Lots of Barry talk this hour, and the comment board over on the new blog is abuzz over Maryland's attempt to force Wal-Mart to pay for better health care for its workers. We'll take that up here as well.

We're giving the old polling machine another try now that it's out of rehab and supposedly ready to roll--give it a try during our hour together and we'll talk about the results toward the end of the show.

On to your many comments and questions, after the Yay and Nay of the Day:

Yay to the Manassas city council for yielding to public pressure and doing the right thing by scrapping its anti-family, anti-immigrant law. The city's attempt to find a cheap fix to the problem of immigrants crowding into houses was a diss against all of American history; few among us didn't have ancestors who lived as extended families while trying to get a footing in the New Land. Manassas should take on the problem of overcrowding, but the way to do that is through rigorous code enforcement, not by redefining the scope of the American family.

Nay to the D.C. Public Library system and its board, which is holding a phony series of "listening sessions" starting next week, purportedly to find out what city residents want from their libraries. The real purpose is to be able to say that the board consulted with the public before deciding to build a new central library and remake the branches with more computers, fewer books and perhaps some creative real estate deals. Amazingly, the library is asking people to comment on a blue ribbon task force's findings without releasing the report of said task force. Is that cynical, or what?

Your turn starts right now...

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Annandale, Va.: Marc --

Wonderful column today! I wonder how long the citizens of the District will continue to allow Marion Barry to make this city an object of scorn and derision to the rest of the country. Whatever good he did during his early administrations has long since been overshadowed by his subsequent (and apparently unceasing) outrageous conduct. It really is time for him to go.

washingtonpost.com: Memo To Barry: Enough (Post, Jan. 12)

Marc Fisher: Thanks. Of course, that's the same reaction that many suburbanites and some District residents have had to the previous dozen or so incidents of Barry shaming the city and his own legacy. What feels different this time is that many of Barry's tightest supporters have had it with his excuses, promises and sales tactics. It's clearly time for him to resign from the council. But of course he won't.

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Herndon, Va.: Hi Marc: First, I'd like to say that I'm digging the new blog. Second, having grown up in D.C., I've been witness to the ups and downs of Marion Barry's career and I have to wonder why anyone would put an ounce of faith in this guy. He has followed this pattern his entire career and folks think at age 69 he's going to have an epiphany and change? He makes a mockery of the city that he claims to love and needs to be gone now.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--the blog is changing by the day. I'll be experimenting with a bunch of new forms to see what works and what feels right. Stay tuned.

A lot of Barry's lingering appeal is merely a reflection of the rage and sense of displacement that many black D.C. residents have in a time of gentrification. Barry remains a symbol both of black power in the city and of a respected and strong figure who consistently stood tall against the powers that be. But with each disappointing episode, that ability to inspire diminishes--for some. For others, and I'm hearing from quite a few of them by email, every time Barry gets in trouble, it's cause for a deeper expression of compassion and support--the standard line is that he did so much for us, the least we can do is to love and cherish him even when he goes wrong.

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McLean, Va.: Today's column was excellent. When may we expect a similar column on George W. Bush?

Marc Fisher: And the analogy is...?

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Bethesda, Md.: Marc,

Any update on the criminal investigation into the two youths who robbed Barry of $600 last week? Anyone buying Barry's "grocery bags" story anymore?

Marc Fisher: Obviously there's more skepticism than ever about Barry's odd tale of the two young guys who carried his groceries to his apartment, then came back to rip him off. But I get stuck on the question of motive: If Barry made up or altered the story, why would he feel the need to have held a press conference about it? If you're very cynical and want to believe that Barry was somehow covering for a drug deal, that he either stiffed a dealer or was ripped off by a dealer, why would he have gone public with the whole incident? Some say it's because there was a witness, but if that's the case, where is said witness? Police don't know about such a person. Thoughts? Scenarios?

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Alexandria, Va.: Marc,Loved your column today. It's about time that Marion Barry pay for his crimes! He definitely needs to be outta there and serve time for drug use/possession. He's a major embarrassment to D.C. and the surrounding areas, and has just gone too far at this point. Thanks for your column; it's needed and refreshing.

Marc Fisher: Ok, but what would come from jailing him? Certainly it would have no impact on his own behavior. Would it serve as a message to the city's young people about the consequences of getting involved with drugs? Not likely. Would it at least put the city on record as being a place that operates under the rule of law? Perhaps. I can only really see putting him away if he refuses to step down from the council.

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D.C. legacy: Marc, when you write a book about the history of Washington DC after World War II, Marion Barry would have to be The central figure of the story. Does that bother you?

Marc Fisher: Not in the least. How else would the book sell?

My fellow columnist Gene Robinson and I were talking about this earlier today: If only Barry knew the extent to which he brings out the best in reporters and writers. It really is a symbiotic relationship, and not merely one in which the media take advantage of the sad chapters in Barry's life. He has made great use of the press over the years, right down to last month's move on the baseball stadium issue. It would make for a great book by somebody someday.

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Marc Fisher: Hard to believe, but the poll machine has crapped out yet again. And this time, the tech mavens tell me it cannot be fixed during our show. Sorry, folks. Technology On The March!

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Alexandria, Va.: Marc -- If we ask you really tough questions, does your wife break down crying and flee the office?

Marc Fisher: You wouldn't believe the weeping around this room in mid afternoon when the reporters' questions really start flying.

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Rockville, Md.: The city's handling of the tragic death of David Rosenbaum gets more scandalous every day. Now we hear he was conscious so they didn't think his injuries were too severe -- they just suspected drunkenness -- but if he was conscious, wouldn't Rosenbaum have been able to tell them what happened to him? And if he was conscious but unable to communicate, wouldn't that suggest something demanding immediate attention, e.g., a stroke? Why did they call an ambulance from the other side of Rock Creek Park when others were closer? Why take him to Howard Univ. Hospital when Georgetown or Sibley was closer? Someone or more than one person screwed this up badly.

Marc Fisher: And most disappointingly, the city is circling the wagons for a defense of the indefensible. The fire chief now says there was nothing wrong with the response. Hey, 22 or 24 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, nothing wrong with that! Taking a dying man clear across the city to an inferior hospital--that's just fine!

Let's assume the EMTs made an honest mistake and misread the nature of the case. Even so, there's no excuse for Rosenbaum to have been taken five miles away to Howard when he lived within five minutes of one hospital and 10 minutes of two others.

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Colesville, Md.: How's this for irony? The "Sugar Free Low Carb Superstore" in Cloverly went out of business and is being replaced by "The Donut Shoppe."

Marc Fisher: Ha! Good one. Would be even better if it were the same owner.

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Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.: If you live in upper NW D.C., immediately program your cell and home phones with the number of the BCC Rescue Squad 301-652-1000. Who knows, maybe you'll save a neighbor.

Marc Fisher: Excellent suggestion. Would Rosenbaum have lived if the neighbor who found him had called the Bethesda-Chevy Chase ambulance rather than the District? We'll never know, and clearly his wounds were very serious. But all who live in upper Northwest should know to call BCC rather than 911.

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Chevy Chase, D.C.: Good morning, Marc. I read your blog entry about the murdered NYT reporter with great interest, because I also live in that area -- you and I must be neighbors. I'm now taking the bus home instead of walking down dimly lit Military Road from the Metro every night. One of my best friends, who also lives in the area, was mugged and beaten just a few blocks from there late one night last week, and the police say they think it may have been the same people -- assuming that the NYT murder was random and not targeted. I guess I don't really have a question -- I just wanted to say, I'm also very sad about this, and a little scared.

Marc Fisher: It is indeed scary and sad, but I've been glad to see that many people are refusing to change their behavior--over the past few evenings, I've seen plenty of folks out taking walks, jogging, walking the dog, and so on. That's the only real defense against such thuggery.

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Marion Barry Book: Henry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood did write a book on Barry back in 1996 called "Chocolate City." As both of these authors are still in town, a little revision wouldn't hurt.

Marc Fisher: Actually, the title of the book is "Dream City" and sadly it is out of print, but still available on used book sites on the web. I foolishly lent my copy to someone who had just moved to town, and I never got it back. There should be a special place in hell for folks who borrow books and don't return them. I know a guy who would lend out books but only if he kept the dustjacket and wrote the borrower's name inside it--that way he could remember that the volume was out on loan and whom he had lent it to.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a question. How many of the small businesses that Wal-Mart killed were offering their employees medical benfits? One of the reasons I left the small firm I was working for is that they could no longer afford medical benefits. Keeping Wal-Mart out isn't going to do much to get people benefits. A law in Maryland requiring all employers to offer some sort of health benefit would.

Marc Fisher: Right--the solution to this problem is not one that speaks only to Wal-Mart. It's true that many of those businesses that were displaced by Wal-Mart had never offered health benefits, but that shouldn't absolve WM of the responsibility to do right by its workers.

Over on the comment boards of the blog, a reader made this good point:

"I can remember a time when Wal-Mart was a leader in helping working-class Americans. Does anyone else remember their campaign "Buy American, and Americans work"? When Sam Walton died, they threw all their sense of civic responsibility out the window and started sucking up every dime that wasn't nailed down."

Those anti-Wal Mart groups should dig out those old ads and run them now.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: As of 11:03 a.m. I am the only person who chose 'c' for the Wal-Mart question?

OK, not many of us have answered at all, but still ...

Next time be sure to include a choice that says, "Only if this is the first in a long series of bills designed specifically to attack Wal-Mart and drive it out of the state. The chain is pure evil, and we must destroy it."

That's the one I really wanted to choose.

Marc Fisher: Well, with the poll down, you may end up in history as the only person to vote for that choice.

But I'd like to hear from those who believe Wal Mart is evil incarnate on why you think the great majority of Americans have only good things to say about the store--not only about what a good place to shop it is, but even about how it's good for their community and the country as a whole?

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Washington, D.C.: While agree that it is time to say enough to Barry, what always bothers me is where is the person to take his place? As you rightfully point out, Barry represents those who are unrepresented and frustrated with their lack of voice in D.C. The second sad part of this story (the first being Barry's life is sad) is that there are no young, African American leaders stepping up to the plate to provide an alternative to Barry.

Also, I think this problem highlights another problem with DC politics, that the old-timers, no matter how out of touch, never seem to go away and let new blood in. They don't care about creating new leaders.

Marc Fisher: Well, yes and no. Certainly the District has a noticeable paucity of new leadership--just have a look at the crew who are running for mayor. Ugh.

But I wouldn't necessarily blame that on the first generation of home rule politicians. It's more a result of the lack of opportunity to get involved in politics in the city--it's a one-party town with very limited home rule. The school board is really the only place where up and coming elected officials can train for the council and mayoralty, and the school board has been half-appointed since the Control Board made its raid on what limited democracy the District had.

With all of that said, there are those who point to Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray and see evidence of a new generation of black leadership emerging in the city.

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Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C. : Great column today.

I'm unclear, though, as to whether Hizzoner will face any legal consequences for testing positive for cocaine. What's the next step, legally speaking? Would some sort of court action preclude him from serving on the council?

Marc Fisher: The judge in his tax evasion case has a sentencing set for February, though a decision could come sooner. In that decision, the judge will take into account the report from pre-trial services, which includes the drug test.

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Annandale, Va.: Marc--

I am the author of the first comment appearing today. Although I live outside of the District, I have worked for an independent agency of the D.C. government since 1984, and actually lived in the city until 1993. Until Barry left the mayor's office for (hopefully) the last time, I was embarrassed to answer every time I was asked for whom did I work. Thus, my earlier comment was written not only as a "suburbanite".

Marc Fisher: Around here, many, if not most, people have strong connections across political jurisdictional lines. When we think about the District or suburban Maryland or Virginia as separate and distinct entities, we are buying into a narrow bureaucratic view of life that stands in stark contrast with how we all live our daily lives.

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Life and death in D.C.: I have to say between the David Rosenbaum story and the Marion Barry story it's just more evidence why I choose NOT to live in the District. It's dysfunctional at best and downright third world at worst ...

Marc Fisher: You're only showing your own deep bias here. Rosenbaum was killed in a neighborhood that is way safer than almost any piece of any suburb within 75 miles of the District. There had not been a single murder in that area for years before this.

And those who would judge the District by the antics of Marion Barry would have missed out on the colossal boom of the past decade.

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Jacknut: Hopfully any final analysis of Marion Barry will include what he should be rightfully praised for: His dedicated work in the civil rights movement.

Marc Fisher: Well, Barry is a complex and fascinating character and there's not a single chapter of his amazing life that is not chockablock with contradictions. Those who worked with him in the civil rights years have both stirring stories of his dedication and strategic brilliance, and devastating tales of his womanizing, excessive personal behavior and betrayal of friends and allies. He has always been a mixed bag.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Marion Barry

Not that it matters, but I'm a white twenty-something West Coast transplant who moved to D.C., two years ago.

And I like Barry. I like his charisma and more importantly, I like the fact that he stands up for Ward 8, which few politicians will. He is a flawed man, with a drug addiction. So what. I'll still vote for him.

Marc Fisher: Ok, I like him too. I love watching him in action. I love seeing the connection he makes with people who are ignored or derided by most politicians.

But please, tell me what he has done for Ward 8 since being elected. There's not much left of the old Marion Barry, and I'm afraid there's precious little to point to in the way of real progress that he's brought for people who live in Ward 8. If you're looking to credit someone for making some very rough neighborhoods much better, that would be Mayor Tony Williams, who has transformed the face of Ward 8.

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Maryland: Horse track stats --No, I don't miss them. They're in the same category as hockey stories to me.

Marc Fisher: This is a reference to my blog item from yesterday about the Post's decision to drop horse track stats from the Sports section. Nobody seems to miss them.

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Maryland: Re: battered PG doors. What do you think is behind the rash of smashed doors in PG county? Drunken teens or home repair salesmen?

Marc Fisher: Sadly, it sounds like a case of dumb kids playing gangster. I'd be surprised if there isn't a video game or TV inspiration behind this.

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Maryland: Dear Marc:

Is this a new journalistic trend at The Post? I am a Black female and I just read the article about the 13-pound baby. The reporter mentioned the size of the mother, the size of her siblings, the size of the mother's father, the size of the 13-pounder's brothers and sisters. THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION OF THE FATHER OF THE 13-POUND BABY. I know that we as African American women can do a lot of things, but I didn't know immaculate conception was so routine that the reporter doesn't even throw us a bone about the "Baby-Daddy". I guess the reporter wanted to be polite, but I -- like comedian Dave Chappelle -- believe we must keep it real. At least MENTION the father, even the fact that the mother refuses to give info about him. What gives?

washingtonpost.com: At 13 Pounds, a Whole Lot of Baby (Post, Jan. 12)

Marc Fisher: I'm with you. This is a story in today's Prince George's Extra, available online at the above address.

The story mentions the baby's father but once, noting that he is tall. He is never named and his existence is barely even alluded to. I've seen this in other stories in our paper and in others and it is indeed offensive. If it's a single mom, ok, tell us that and explain the circumstances. But don't keep us guessing.

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Havre de Grace, Md.: Marc, you are so right about the need for more community-based medical centers and fewer hospitals and hospital emergency rooms in D.C. I volunteered at the Information Desk at Children's Hospital while attending college and grad school at CUA 1983-89, and there was always a steady stream of parents bringing children to the Info Desk saying such things as, he has a cold, her stomach hurts, he has a headache, she doesn't feel good. I'll bet fewer than 1 percent had a medical emergency that justified ER treatment, but that's where we sent them all because that was our only option (and where they often waited hours if ER personnel were involved with treating actual emergencies). I'm sure it's gotten a lot worse since then. If I were still a D.C. resident, I'd work hard to have that $400 million directed to where it might actually do some good.

Marc Fisher: Right--every doctor and nurse I talk to tells the same story, and every time I've been in the ERs, I see it. People use the ERs as a walk-in clinic for any and every ailment, and that's an enormous waste of resources. It behooves the city to increase the availability of primary care both because the health of the poor demands it and because it would save oceans of moolah.

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Springfield, Va.: I have always wondered if one of the reasons that Richmond has not been forthcoming with funds for Northern Virginia transporation needs is that there is a perception that they would be helping solve Maryland and D.C. transportation problems with Virginia tax dollars?

Marc Fisher: That's a piece of it, but the problem is deeper than that. There's a deep antipathy toward Virginia's Washington suburbs in Richmond and around the state. Lawmakers know that northern Virginia is the state's cash cow, but they seem to feel little obligation to give anything back to this region when they're dishing out the goodies. Tim Kaine's first big challenge is finding a way to make traffic more bearable around here; he certainly seems eager to take on that task, but it'll be fascinating to see how and if he gets around the anti-Washington bias in Richmond.

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washingtonpost.com: Marc's Blog: Raw Fish

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think of Cropp's compromise offer to MLB on the stadium deal? It all seems reasonable on the surface, but what incentive does MLB have to negotiate at this point? Can't they just go to an arbitrator and get everything they were initially promised (costing D.C. millions of dollars in legal fees, along the way)?

Marc Fisher: It's classic Cropp--there's nothing new in it, but it's a way for her to reframe the existing situation with an eye toward declaring victory and moving on. If all it will take to end this soap opera is a rejiggering of the rhetoric and a few new claims of authorship to the eventual deal, then fine, let's take it. But let's not fool ourselves--the ideas in Cropp's letter come straight from the package that the Sports Commission and the mayor's staff have been working out for the past few weeks.

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Another Upper N.W. Neighbor: "I've been glad to see that many people are refusing to change their behavior -- over the past few evenings, I've seen plenty of folks out taking walks, jogging, walking the dog, and so on. That's the only real defense against such thuggery."

The only real defense against such thuggery? What about being extra-careful, not walking alone late at night, not listening to headphones that drown out outside noise? Are you really advocating just acting as if something like this could never happen again?

Marc Fisher: I'm with you on the headphones--we'll never know if Rosenbaum would have heard his attackers if we hadn't been listening to his headset, but it makes sense to be alert as you head out on your evening constitutional.

As for the rest of your prescription, no thanks. Deciding that it's no longer safe to go out for a walk just because of one incident is caving in and empowering the thugs. Sure, if there's a nutjob on the loose, it might make sense to sit tight til he's caught, but for the most part, communities triumph over crime by making the streets more busy and vibrant, not by hiding indoors.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think part of the reason Rosenbaum's death is such big news because he was a journalist (for the Times, no less!)? I can't recall this much hoo-hah over the latest killings in SE/Prince George's Co. What about those victims? Or do you have to be a writer for The New York Times to matter?

Marc Fisher: Sure, it's a bigger story because he is One of Us and reporters and editors see this as more important than we might if he'd been a dentist or a gravedigger. But the two main reasons this is a big story would apply to anyone: It happened in a place where such things almost never happen, and it seems to have involved screw-ups by the city authorities, which makes it an important story for everyone, regardless of neighborhood or income level.

And in fact, most editors are now so hypersensitive to the accusation that we focus on People Like Us that we tend to underplay such stories. My guess is that if the same thing had happened in a poor section of Southeast, stories about a 22-minute delay in getting an ambulance would be getting even bigger play than this one.

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Washington 20052: Barry was against the "powers that be". Hey,wasn't he the "powers that be."?

Marc Fisher: Shhh, don't tell.

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Reston, Va.: I can understand the negative feelings about Marion Barry, I really do. What I've never understood is why people use him as a reason not to give D.C. full voting rights, or insist that he's shamed the city. He's not the only politician to engage in shady dealings and as much as I like ol Teddy ... the man has been Senator of Mass., for decades and I don't see anybody saying that he's shamed his home state. Frankly, every state, city, town and municipality has had some shady characters running it, but D.C. and Marion seem to inspire a level of scorn the other places and people don't get.

Marc Fisher: Nicely said. Marion has always been used as a convenient excuse by those who simply don't want a majority black city to have voting rights. That's the basis for the opposition to D.C. representation in Congress; always has been, still is.

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Springfield, Va.: Mark, Your thoughts on the Alito confirmation hearings, thus far ...

Marc Fisher: I've enjoyed listening to chunks of the hearings, but I have to say that they don't have nearly the power of previous such episodes. Biden was excellent this morning questioning Alito on war powers and the nature of a justice's obligations to precedent. But for the most part, the senatorial speechifying has gotten out of hand, and windy rhetoric has replaced the old back and forth between lawyers who really knew their constitutional stuff. The good parts of this round have been when smart lawyers get down to the meat of constitutional principles. The silliness about Concerned Alumni of Princeton and Vanguard stocks insults everyone's intelligence. The guy is clearly very well qualified and he seems to represent the president's perspective on executive power. That's the view of government that Americans voted for and that's why Alito should be on the court. He's a vastly better and more honest choice than Harriet Miers.

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Arlington, Va.: Marc, are you socially conservative, fiscally conservative, or both?

Marc Fisher: Neither.

I love labels, but I'm afraid liberal and conservative don't work for me in most cases. If you insisted on analyzing my views and jamming them into categories, you'd probably come up with a label something like left libertarian, embracing all the contradictions that implies.

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Washington, D.C.: This is a bit grisly -- my apologies -- but I need your help in determining where to lodge a complaint. On Monday I drove south on I95, past where (as I later read) some human remains had been found. The evidence was there in full view of me and thousands of other motorists. I was and remain appalled. Why no screen or tarp? Anyhow, if you could clue me into the correct target for my complaint, I would be very grateful.

Marc Fisher: Hmm--if I recall correctly, that took place in Maryland. I'd start with the state police headquarters and ask for the citizen complaint section or internal affairs.

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Take me to Target: But I'd like to hear from those who believe Wal-Mart is evil incarnate on why you think the great majority of Americans have only good things to say about the store -- not only about what a good place to shop it is, but even about how it's good for their community and the country as a whole?

Frankly, I don't think that the average American gives a hoot about what, if anything, Wal-Mart gives to the community. They only care that they can buy stuff cheap. If they knew how many Wal-Mart employees qualify for welfare due to the low wages, or how internal memos show that management 'wants' to push their employees' healthcare onto the government they would change their minds about how great the place is. My husband's aunt worked there and she loathes the place.

Marc Fisher: Maybe, and certainly the fact that more and more communities are rising up against Wal-Marts coming into their towns lends support to your theory, but the Pew study I link to in today's blog item says otherwise: People who should know better pretty routinely embrace Wal-Mart as being good for their community.

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Left libertarian ...: And an animal-hater, too, right?

Marc Fisher: Ooops, forgot that. Thanks.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Marc, I'm a white 53-year-old single woman, who is a white collar professional (but not wealthy) who attends church on a semi-regular basis and HATES Wal-Mart and all it stands for. Since I lost my job last year, I have to pay MY own health insurance (at $478/month), and now I guess I'll keep on paying for those Wal-Mart employees who can't afford health care. Can I send Lee Scott a bill? I don't think the bill will get passed, but I don't shop at Wal-Mart, and encourage others to boycott them and how they screw their vendors, and how their vendors end up squeezing their employees. I don't know where those statistics were from in your blog, but I just wonder how THOSE respondees would feel if they had to pay for their own health insurance.

Marc Fisher: The mad geniuses of American politics know that the secret to winning at the polls is to recognize that many, if not most, Americans identify not with the people in their own income bracket or class, but with the folks a rung or two up the ladder from them. Knowing that helps pols and businesses like Wal-Mart keep the populace on their side.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Boy, oh boy! I wish that I could perform my job poorly for several years and still walk away with a severance package like Richard White has! That really burns me that we, the taxpayers, have to support him for the rest of his life. Where can I sign up?

Marc Fisher: When you find out, please let me know.

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Just Aghast, D.C.: Where, oh where is the city-wide outrage about this little gem?

"-Outgoing Metro Chief] White will receive a severance package that will guarantee him a six-figure annual income for life."

For LIFE? Come on! He's getting millions for failing to do his job. This is outrageous, as the region struggles to find a dedicated funding source for Metro. How many broken escalators could they fix with that money?

This new corporate culture of rewarding failure with huge severance packages has to stop. Absurd!

Marc Fisher: And on top of his huge pension and other special parting gifts, he gets a Metrocard good for the rest of his life. Which of course he won't even use, because he preferred to drive to work.

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Olney, Md.: Marc is absolutely right. When folks are out and about, our neighborhood streets are much safer. If you are lurking about intending harm, are you going to attempt a robbery if there are witnesses likely to walk by?

Marc Fisher: Thanks--of course, this only works if others join you in deciding not to cower inside.

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Washington, D.C. -- SE (Ward 7): To correct the statement of the very first poster from Annandale, the "residents of D.C." did NOT re-elect Marion Barry to City Council. The citizens of Ward 8 -- the city's most ignored and disenfranchised ward -- elected him, for reasons you've explained quite well.

Marc Fisher: Good point. Given the changes in the city and in its population, Barry could not win citywide.

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Washington, D.C.: For books about Barry, there's also the book "The Last of the Black Emperors" by Jonetta Rose Barras. I believe it is still in print.

Marc Fisher: Good one.

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Baltimore, Md.: Marc: Marion Barry is a man of many personal failings, certainly. But with all the "Night Owling", womanizing and drug use, he never used his position to personally enrich himself, even though a number of others in city government did. I think that accounts for both the lingering affection (Barry is honest, in a non-Jack Abramoff way) and for why he stays in office. Simply put, he needs the salary.

Marc Fisher: Right--I said that in today's column and it bears repeating often in the avalanche of anti-Barry commentary.

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D.C. resident: "When we think about the District or suburban Maryland or Virginia as separate and distinct entities, we are buying into a narrow bureaucratic view of life that stands in stark contrast with how we all live our daily lives."

I'll have to disagree. I think there are important cultural and political differences between D.C. and suburban Maryland and Virginia that do set us apart somewhat. But maybe that's just the D.C. snob in me talking.

Marc Fisher: Sure, there are real differences and we play with them here and in the column quite often. But even with those differences, most people lead lives that take them across borders very often--we live in one place, work in another, and play in yet another.

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Germy D.C. desk: Do you eat on your desk?

Marc Fisher: I like to spread my food across my keyboard, which, we were told this week in the Food section, is a more foul and disease ridden place than the bottom of my shoes.

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Metro man: At least the new guy commutes via Metro. Give him the Golden ticket.

Marc Fisher: Right--Metro's gain is DC's loss.

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Annapolis, Md.: Marc doesn't hate animals, he just prefers them with salt.

Marc Fisher: Pepper, actually.

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Re: Wal-Mart: If Wal-Mart is such a horrible place to work, why do so many people work there? After all, the economy is absolutely booming and there's plenty of jobs. Lord Bush himself said so. And locally, didn't we all see The Post's own Mega-Jobs classified section this past weekend?

A low-wage, low-skill job like Wal-Mart is not meant to be a person's sole source of income or benefits. It's meant to be a supplement. Why don't people understand this?

Marc Fisher: Um, maybe because many Wal-Mart workers have no other job.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

We need a new central library, that actually is designed to be a library and not a generic office building that was picked out of the architect's notebook.

And yes, we need more books and computers too.

Marc Fisher: Right. Now, how to get there....

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Columbia, Md.: Wal-Mart -- saw a doc/movie on them recently. If you get a chance to see it, do it! I wish I could remember the name of it. The "family" donated about 1 percent of their money to charity. After 9/11, they built a "bunker" on the family property to save themselves in the event of another attack. So insane.

washingtonpost.com: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Marc Fisher: Haven't seen it but keep meaning to.

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Washington, D.C.: You said: "I can only really see putting him away if he refuses to step down from the council."

Um ... why is that? Isn't it a felony to take cocaine? Don't people have to go to jail when they commit felonies? I don't get your flippancy about whether or not charges should be pressed. Could you explain?

Marc Fisher: He pleaded to a misdemeanor in the tax case and that's the only case before the court.

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washingtonpost.com: Desktop Dining (Post, Jan. 11)

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washingtonpost.com:

Today's Column: Memo To Barry: Enough (Post, Jan. 12)

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Wal-Mart, Sector 4, Aisle 57: You know, I'm neither a fan nor an opponent of Wal-Mart, but I'd like to see the whole debate framed by the following: What is wrong with selling people the stuff they want at the lowest price? I also feel that the whole anti-Wal-Mart hysteria is tainted with a healthy dose of elitism. For example, are there any exposes to determine how much Nordstrom pays its employees? Are Nieman Marcus employees allowed to organize? Does not the Hecht Company push for the lowest possible prices from its suppliers? (Note: I don't know the answers to these questions, but would really like to see an honest comparison of Wal- Mart wages/bennies/etc., as opposed to more upscale stores.)

Last, an observation: I've been going to Deep Creek Lake in far Western Maryland for almost 20 years now. The county seat, Oakland, is your classic "Main Street small town." A Wal-Mart moved into Oakland about 5 years ago, and you know what? Downtown Oakland looks just about the same to me.

Marc Fisher: Really? I haven't been, but I'd be willing to bet that the nature of the stores in the downtown has changed. There's no way to survive selling mass-market clothes, housewares or drug store items against Wal-Mart.

And yes, Wal-Mart's health benefits are noticeably worse than those of other big retailers.

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Richard White : Say,Isn't there an opening at AU?

Marc Fisher: I thought they were holding that for the mayor.

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Re: Working at Wal-Mart: Last minute comment: I worked for Kmart in my teens. We all knew not to work for Wal-Mart despite them offering higher wages. They also had employees sign ridiculous employment contracts that could get you easily fired for no reason and rarely offered benefits that we received as part-timers at Kmart. Employees often defected from Wal-Mart to Kmart once the no-compete period of their contract ended. It's that bad.

Marc Fisher: Interesting. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: So elderly criminals shouldn't do time?

Marc Fisher: Sure they should. But I wonder if there are any stats on whether judges, in DC and elsewhere, treat them differently in sentencing. I bet they do, and they may well be justified in doing so--after all, old folks are less likely to be recidivists.

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Re: regionalism: NoVA is certainly the cash cow of Virginia. If it wasn't for us "not real" Virginians, the rest of the state would be even more like Alabama. The past election only tended to show the divide. Perhaps it's somewhat similar to the upstate/downstate divides in other places, such as N.Y. and Ill.

Perhaps that's why a colleague in my office once said that if NoVA could secede from the state, it should really become one with the non-federal parts of the District, plus Montgomery and P.G. Counties in Maryland. We have more in common with each other than with the entities we're tied to now. What do you think?

Marc Fisher: Sure, every big metro area dreams of seceding from the state that gives it fewer resources than it numerically deserves. But that's the structure of our system--the metro areas subsidize the rural areas.

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Charm City, Md.: Marc you wrote "Yay to the Manassas City Council for yielding to public pressure and doing the right thing by scrapping its anti-family, anti-immigrant law."

I totally disagree. The law was designed not to punish legal immigrants but to discourage ILLEGAL immigrants from overrunning a community. What problem do you have with a community trying anything it can to stop a serious problem, a problem I might add the state and federal government will do nothing about?

Stop clouding the issue. Law breakers need to be discouraged, ILLEGAL immigrants are the issue not legal ones.

Marc Fisher: Sure, lawbreakers need to be discouraged, but despite their frustration, city and local lawmakers have few tools with which to combat illegal immigration. Only the feds can do that and they're not interested.

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Marc Fisher: Sorry--ran way over time today.

Sunday's column will come to you from Tim Kaine's inauguration in Williamsburg. And I'll be blogging from there through the weekend.

Thanks for coming along--back with you next week, same time, same station. Til then, see you on the blog.

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