Potomac Confidential
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Potomac Confidential

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Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, February 21, 2008; 12:00 PM

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

Fisher was online Thursday, Feb. 13, at Noon ET to look at anti-crime cameras in the District and red light and speed cameras in Maryland, plus the departure of William and Mary president Gene Nichol and the move of "The Awakening" sculpture to National Harbor.

Today's Column: D.C. Police Cameras Are No Substitute For Shoe Leather ( Post, Feb. 21)

Check out Marc's 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.

Anti-crime cameras in the District, good or bad? Should speed cameras be expanded beyond Montgomery County to all of Maryland?

Was The College of William and Mary right to jettison President Gene Nichol? Was he a lousy manager, a leftist ideologue, or a change agent who was hired expressly to shake things up?

Is the move of The Awakening sculpture from Hains Point to the new National Harbor shopping and hotel complex in Prince George's County a tragedy or a yawn?

And now that you've had a week to digest the Potomac Primary results, does the strong showing for Barack Obama in Virginia, combined with Mark Warner's Senate bid, mean happy days ahead for the state's downticket Democrats, or do the results from some rural parts of the state, where Hillary Clinton trounced Obama by a 4-1 margin, mean that McCain takes the state easily?

On to your wise and wonderful answers to these and many other questions, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:

Yay to the Nationals' Elijah Dukes, who presented himself honestly and openly at his first news conference yesterday. We may not get too many chances to say nice things about the troubled outfielder this season, so I thought it was important to use this opportunity to build a foundation of optimistic words.

Nay to the Prince William County supervisors who decided to spend all but a few pennies of the county's contingency fund to beef up enforcement of the new anti-illegal immigrant rules passed last fall. It's one thing to crack down on illegal immigrants, and quite another to recklessly spend money that's set aside for unforeseen events just to get the enforcement wheels spinning faster and sooner.

Your turn starts right now....

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Arlington, Va.: Marc, re: the accident in Accokeek -- normally after an accident I would feel bad for the families of the victims, but in this case I have to say, grow up people. If you're standing in the middle of a highway that has a speed limit of 55 mph, you are implicitly accepting the risk that you will be hit and killed by any vehicle that happens to come along the road. And if you're standing in that highway because you're cheering on an illegal activity, you're even more at fault.

I just hope the driver of the car is getting help so this incident doesn't ruin his life.

Marc Fisher: Well, I'm with you and not with you--I agree that anyone standing in the middle of a highway is being reckless and foolish. It's not that they deserve whatever happens to them, but certainly it's hard to be sympathetic to people who act with such abandon. But I find it even harder to muster much sympathy for the driver who plowed into the crowd, especially given what the Post has reported about his driving record. Isn't it fair to assume that someone who is driving on a suspended license is likely not the most cautious and responsible of drivers?

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washingtonpost.com: Nats' Dukes Talks About Changes ( Post, Feb. 21)

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Davidsonville, Md.: Any chance those who know the name of the drag racers involved in the PG county crash could be charged with obstruction of justice for refusing to provide the police with this information? It's amazing to me their friends would want to protect them when they were responsible for 8 deaths!

Marc Fisher: Going after potential witnesses for refusing to be forthcoming is a good and important tool for prosecutors, but it's one they wield far too infrequently, in part because those are tough cases to prove and in part because prosecutors tend to prefer to try to persuade witnesses quietly and privately, rather than using a blunt instrument like pressing charges. But those who know who the racers were--and certainly some people do--have both a moral and legal obligation to come forward, and yet, we live in a time when those obligations are routinely ignored and even derided.

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washingtonpost.com: Immigration Program Drains Reserves ( Post, Feb. 20)

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Street Racing: A friend I work with thinks that someone should tell the driver of the Crown Vic that it wasn't his fault, since the crowd stepped out from the sidelines into the street.

I disagree. Eight people have died. Someone's going to be held accountable.

Marc Fisher: Yes, but the driver shouldn't be charged simply because someone has to be held accountable. He should be charged because he, like all drivers, has a duty to drive with caution, and while there may have been smoke and it was certainly dark, the fact remains that a crowd of people in the middle of the road is visible enough for a driver to at least make a strong effort to stop, veer away, or otherwise minimize the tragedy.

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Fort Washington, Md.: Obviously I don't know how this is going to turn out, but it seems the rules of evidence make it much more difficult to convict Keith Washington of murder. From all indications he was/is a loose cannon, and the jury doesn't get to hear any of this. I'm still reeling from the Hornsby fiasco, but at least that jury was presented with evidence it for whatever reason chose to ignore. I'm betting KW will soon be free to continue to enjoy his tax-free disability pension. What a jerk, and those who made this possible are equal jerks.

Marc Fisher: I haven't been able to make it over to the Washington trial, but from what I've read and heard, it does sound as if the jury in this case is hearing a sanitized version of Washington's record. Of course this happens all too often in trials--good defense lawyers take pride in shielding juries from the basic facts that any of us would want to take into account in judging someone's actions.

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703: Are you telling me you cannot smoke while driving in the U.K.? Surely you jest. Can you chew gum? Scratch your head? Listen to the radio?

Marc Fisher: This is from my column today on the Brits' love affair with surveillance cameras and our own governments' first steps toward watching how we drive and behave on the public streets.

British law on these matters is reminiscent of Montgomery County's reputation for adopting nanny state measures, but the Brits take it a few steps beyond. Using cameras to stop red light running and speeding makes a lot of sense, but using the images those cameras collect to enforce laws against eating or cell phone usage while driving feels all too intrusive.

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Rockville, Md.:"Albright did the math: That comes to a cost to taxpayers of $7,260 for each time the cameras have been checked and $30,769 for each time an image has been used in an investigation."

And in another 18 months (assuming similar statistics on checking and criminal cases), the cost would be $3,630 per check and $15,384 per criminal case. And then in another 18 months, it will drop further.

In almost EVERYTHING, start up costs are high but get amortized over a long time. How much is that FIRST cup of coffee at a new "chain" store? Pretty high if you look at the cost of the machine used.

Marc Fisher: Good point--eventually, the cameras might pay for themselves in some fashion. But now that the District is paying officers to sit in front of monitors and watch the live transmissions from high-crime intersections, you need to recalculate the costs and benefits. I'd rather have those cops on the street and use the cameras only retroactively to capture evidence.

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Chinatown: Your column on the sound coming from the video screens caused the manager to make a change; last time I was there they were silent..I'd rather hear city noise than blaring ads. Glad they corrected it.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--I don't particularly mind the noise from the ads, but then again, I don't live right above those loudspeakers.

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Springfield, Va.: Marc,

As a long time newspaper man, could you please explain to me how the two leading papers in this country just happened to put similar, thinly sourced stories about John McCain, involving allegations that are 10 years old, on their front page on the same day? I can only assume that the same disgruntled former staffers -- who of course wish to remain anonymous and launch thier attacks from the shadows of The Post and NYT -- have been shopping this story to several media outlets. Did anyone check to see if the anonymous sources are carrying DNC cards in their wallets and have HRC or Obama signs in the yards?

Marc Fisher: The story was an enterprise piece by the Times; the Post picked up on the Times reporting, crediting the Times for being first, and advanced the story with some quick reporting last night. As with any enterprise story, if it's strong and important, it will get picked up quickly by other news organizations, which will then try to match and surpass that story. That's how it works in all directions. The story apparently originally ran in far less detailed form on Drudge late last year.

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Washington, D.C.: Right now there are stories running about McCain's alleged (1) use of public campaign funding for collateral on a loan (when he subsequently is trying to get out of public funding); (2) using his position to help a lobbyist's clients; and (3) maybe possibly probably not cheating on his wife. How depressing that we're only going to hear about #3 when numbers 1 and 2 are so much more important to the question of what kind of president he would be?

Marc Fisher: Depends on where you get your news. Yes, the TV folks are going ga-ga over the alleged romantic involvement, but the Post and Times stories concentrate far more heavily on the allegations of improprieties in the lobbying matter.

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Washington, D.C.: I went down to see The Awakening one last time before it was taken away. I know National Harbor will be a boon to PG County, but I'm still very saddened by the whole affair. The one positive was the truly outstanding photo by Bill O'Leary on p. 1. And a special nod to the layout people whose placement put the sculpture's hand hovering over a crane in the portion that appears above the fold. It's like getting two great photos for the price of one.

washingtonpost.com: Photo Gallery: 'The Awakening' Moves to Maryland

Marc Fisher: This story is a photographer's bonanza--we've had one delicious image after another. Check out the Post.com photo gallery (link below.)

But I've been touched by the comments by many folks, especially runners who would pass by The Awakening during marathons, who found meaning in the figure's struggle and reach. To associate this work with a commercial complex rather than a national park is kind of sad.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

What's your prediction for the possible snow/ice storm coming our way later tonight? Pardon me, while I run to the store to stock up on milk and toilet paper.

Marc Fisher: Tonight sounds fluffy and light. Tomorrow sounds like just the recipe for the kind of storm that creates paralysis in the Washington area but would hardly be noticed in many other cities. Run, don't walk, to your nearest grocer. There, buy only those items that everyone else is buying. We have a reputation to uphold, you know.

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Alexandria, Va.: Yesterday on Stephen Barr's chat, everyone was complaining about not closing the federal government because far-out places have snow -- after all "we work here too." It really irritates me. As a taxpayer (and a federal employee), I don't think the feds should close just when there is snow somewhere where a fed might live. People need to realize that they make all sorts of choices when they choose to purchase a home. One of those relates to knowing that if you live in far-out MD/VA, it might snow where you are and not in the Beltway, so you might not be able to get to work sometimes and you'll probably have to take leave. And no, having kids doesn't mean you need that gargantuan house -- I know a lot of successful, happy, well-adjusted adults who grew up living in a 2-bedroom apartment with their parents.

Sorry, rant over.

washingtonpost.com: Federal Diary Live ( washingtonpost.com, Feb. 20)

Marc Fisher: Anyone who closed anything yesterday should be ashamed of themselves. This was the classic case of six flakes falling and entire counties declaring surrender.

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Ft. Washington, Md.: I live a near where the accident occurred right off 210. In the almost four years I've lived in this year I can count on one hand the amount of times I've seen police patrolling these roads. I've seen more D.C. cops who I assume live in S. Maryland than actual PG cops on 210. Everybody knows 210 is a racer's dream, whether planned or impromptu. I don't believe the county is doing enough to prevent these types of accidents. With more growth planned in the area is there any movement toward increasing the number of officers patrolling Southern PG?

Marc Fisher: With growth, you'll certainly get more patrols, but that doesn't provide an answer to the drag racing problem. The cops can't cover every potential race spot at the same time, nor should they. But growth may help cure this problem anyway, because as traffic increases, the roads will become crowded enough, even at midnight, that drag racing will become less practicable.

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23112: At highway speeds, your headlights illuminate about four seconds of darkness in front of you. If the driver of the Crown Vic realized what he saw and slammed on the brakes the instant he knew people were there, the car still would have hit. You just cannot stop on a dime. I think the status of his license is pretty much moot under the circumstances, and besides, there was a tractor-trailer not far behind, according to The Post's story.

Marc Fisher: Yes, it's possible that he didn't have time to stop, but he could have veered away and he could have slowed to a point that perhaps less damage would have occurred. His track record is indeed relevant, at least until we learn more about how fast he was really going and what the visibility really was.

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Suspended license: Had the driver's license recently been suspended but reinstated, or was it suspended at the time of the crash? Because if it's the latter (and I assume it was), then the driver is absolutely at fault and needs to be prosecuted as though he meant to hit those people. If you drive a car when you know, for a fact, that you shouldn't, then anything you do in that car is your fault and I lose all sympathy for the guy.

Marc Fisher: The Post story by Jenna Johnson and Ros Helderman reports:

"Darren Jamar Bullock was driving on a suspended license Saturday when his Crown Victoria struck 13 spectators, eight of whom died, at a middle-of-the-night street race in Prince George's County, according to public records and two law enforcement sources."

I think you've drawn exactly the right conclusions.

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Arlington, Va. - Are you kidding?: Have you actually driven in that area Marc? I'll answer no just given your comments. At 60 mph it is almost impossible to see at night even with your headlights on. Just having headlights on doesn't illuminate a very dark stretch of highway like it's high noon. I've often come across pedestrians in that stretch of road where I'm thankful I haven't hit them. And I'm a very responsible driver.

Even at the speed limit under normal conditions that's a dark and dangerous stretch of road. The idea that we are even entertaining the fact that this kid is somehow at fault -- which you imply by saying we all have a responsibility to drive safely -- is quite absurd.

Marc Fisher: Yes, I have driven there, and while it can be hard to see much on any dark highway, the fact is that the road there is fairly straight. Maybe he couldn't have avoided the crowd entirely, I'm happy to grant that possibility. But his record tells us something important about what kind of driver he is.

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Laurel, Md.: I would have thought people wouldn't bother with this anymore; but apparently someone has become inspired by Roy Pearson.

Another Outrageous Lawsuit: Here's Your Publicity, but Never Again (Well, Unless . . .) ( Post, Feb. 19)

Marc Fisher: The woman in that case appears to have a legitimate gripe against Best Buy. But to sue for $54 million is to abuse the system. This morning, I attended a news conference at which the family of David Rosenbaum, the retired New York Times reporter who was mugged in Northwest Washington and then died because of the incompetence of the District's emergency services personnel, announced they are withdrawing their lawsuit against the city because the District has made serious and meaningful reforms. That's a responsible way to use the system.

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Washington, D.C.: As a professor at a private university I certainly think the state legislators have some right to oversight at William and Mary. Not when it comes to pedagogy and research, because they have no competence, but they were certainly entitled to object at the removal of the cross; having advanced academic degrees gives you no particular expertise over religious matters, or, for that matter, what is or is not "inclusive" and they represent those paying the tab for the university. Also nowadays, the chief job of a university president is to raise money, and offending state legislators and alumni is no way to go about. William and Mary is significantly better off without the guy.

Marc Fisher: Sorry, but I don't see in the state legislators I know and watch any particular competence in selecting a university president. If legislators are unhappy about how a state college operates, they have the ultimate tool at their hands--their control of the budget. But universities should be free to pick their own leaders, knowing that they will be judged not only by how they foster responsible and creative education and research, but how they provide the resources the college needs to survive and thrive.

Nichol had his troubles in fundraising, but he was also very popular with faculty and students--and some alumni. His record is not nearly as black and white as folks on both sides make it out to be.

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Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: As an alum of William and Mary, I'm really saddened by the decision not to renew Nichol's contract. He appeared to take the position of president of a university as an opportunity to aspire to greater diversity in the college, which badly needed it. I hate that so many university presidents seem to be chief fundraisers with little other connection to the university community.

What I don't understand is how the governor, I think?, gets to appoint the Board of Visitors. W and M receives a small percentage of their overall revenue from state funds. I thought the state recently agreed to give them greater autonomy because of this. Does this sound familiar?

Marc Fisher: The odd thing about the decision to get rid of Nichol is that he did pretty much what he said he was going to do--boosted the racial mix among the faculty, changed the look and feel of the college. In some areas, he went way too far for my taste--he fell into the trap of approving anonymous bias reporting, which got W&M into the speech police game that has ensnared far too many colleges. But he did what they hired him to do, and they sacked him for it.

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Re: Gene Nichol: Before Nichol, I bet the vast majority of students didn't know there was something called the Wren Cross. I think they could have more quickly come to an equitable solution on that issue if the conservatives (both alum and student body) hadn't reacted as vehemently as they did. I don't see why the Sex Workers Art Show is such a big deal this year when they came to campus last year. Obviously, losing the one $12 million donation hurts and it hurts in the one important aspect of Nichol's job -- fundraising. But the way the BOV handled this has engendered a lot hurt feelings among recent and soon-to-be alums who are probably less likely to donate in the future and if you don't establish that link early, I doubt you ever establish it. Conservatives have to realize that they don't own the William and Mary campus like they did in the '80s and early '90s. The changing demographics of Northern Virginia (where a lot of the students come from) have led to a more left-leaning student body and campus conservatives are, at best, a minor group at the College now.

Marc Fisher: Was Nichol looking for a fight when he removed the cross from its place of honor in the chapel? Not quite--he was trying to make the chapel, and therefore the college, more welcoming to people outside W&M's traditional clientele. Did Nichol seem too unilateral in how he handled that and other controversies? Probably, but that's who he is and that's how he's always acted--the board hired him knowing that full well.

Indeed, in both the Sex Show and the NCAA mascot cases, Nichol tried to weave a middle path, so he's hardly the ideologue that his accusers make him out to be.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc--

Which do you hate more, squirrels or deer?

Marc Fisher: Tough one. Probably deer, because they cause vastly more damage when they attack. (But don't tell that to my friend Charlie Varon, who was assaulted by a flying squirrel in my back yard. The critter leaped off a phone wire, landed on Charlie's head, and pranced off. I think we heard the animal cackling as he fled the scene. Charlie has never quite recovered.)

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Washington, D.C.: Is there anything LESS necessary than a visitors center at the Vietnam Wall? I can't believe that the site will be torn up for years like at the Capitol, only to put in an $100 million explanation of a monument that is expressly meant to speak for itself.

Marc Fisher: No, the Vietnam visitors center takes the cake as the most craven cave to an interest group on the Mall since the selection of the inappropriate site and design for the World War II Memorial. By the reasoning of the advocates for the Vietnam visitors center, every single memorial on the Mall must now be saddled with an explanatory center so that future generations might get a pedantic and superfluous history lesson rather than simply absorbing the metaphorical power and meaning of the original work of art.

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Visitors Center at Vietnam Wall: Is there any hope that this project will not come to pass? Visitors to the Vietnam Wall are not in need of a huge underground exhibit to tell them "This is a wall with names on it, and here's how you should feel about it."

Marc Fisher: I wish I could see a path toward stopping the center from being built. But I don't see it.

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Washington, D.C.:$50 million and counting. How does Nat Gandhi stay in the D.C. government?

Marc Fisher: The folks who would be in charge of forcing Gandhi out--the council, mayor and Congress--all pretty much come down the same way on this one: Gandhi wasn't directly supervising the scam artists, Gandhi's generally done a stellar job, Gandhi is the primary reason Wall Street has confidence in the District's finances, and no one thinks they could get a replacement who is as competent and devoted to the job. If any one of those reasons were to collapse, he'd be gone in a flash.

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The Awakening: I too went to visit the statue for one last run on Monday. And good lord, when did people loose all semblance of courtesy? Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is packed with bikers, runners, walkers, roller bladers and everyone tends to do sport in one lane and cars drive in the other.

But on Monday, cars were passing people, speeding, honking horns at the bikers while attempting to bump their wheels, yelling at runners, and causing at least two fender benders while I was there. The spot has always been a great place where everyone has learned to share the same space, but this was horrific. It sort of ruined the whole moment for me.

Marc Fisher: Well, I'm sure you're right, but I'm also sure you'd agree that the crowd there this week was not the usual one, and lots of folks who don't know the area and don't know the rules of the road were on hand just to say farewell to the sculpture.

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Arlington, Va.: Marc,

As much as The Post wants to believe that Virginia is going moderate, an argument about electing Democrats as governors is just not sound. Calif., N.Y. and Mass., either have, or recently have had Republican governors and no one is going to claim these states may go red. If I was a betting man, I would take McCain over Obama in Va. I doubt this is the first time Va. was considered in play, but the state has not voted for a Democrat for president in a very very long time.

Marc Fisher: Since 1964, to be precise. And yes, Virginia is hardly to be considered a sure shot for the Dems. But in addition to the two Dem governors in a row, you have Jim Webb's victory over George Allen (yes, mainly because of macaca), and the likelihood of Mark Warner taking John Warner's Senate seat. So the state is in play, but I too think McCain beats Obama in Virginia--at least at this point. A whole lot can happen between now and November, as we're all learning nearly every week in this wacky cycle.

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Washington, D.C.: So I just heard an excerpt of John McCain's speech this morning, wherein he stated that at no time has he ever done anything to violate the public trust.

Has he forgotten about that little Keating Five incident?

Marc Fisher: Picky, picky.

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Richmond Dem: Hillary's RELATIVELY strong showing in rural and western Virginia doesn't say what some would like. Rather, it says more about ole country bigots who'd do anything to keep a black man from being president, even pretend to be a Democrat and vote for Hillary. That part of the state never goes Democratic anyway, so it doesn't mean anything for November. McCain will win those precincts regardless. The decision on who takes the state will be determined by the urban parts of Virginia

Marc Fisher: Probably right, and that's very much in play, especially given the large military presence in Hampton Bays and parts of northern Virginia.

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Hyattsville, Md.: A bunch of people were standing the middle of a highway in the middle of the night to watch illegal drag racing, and we're discussing whether the driver who hit them is at fault?

Folks, find some other recreational activity besides drag racing or watching drag racing! That way, you won't get mowed down by drivers who are quite possibly blinded by the smoke and exhaust and burned rubber generated by the ILLEGAL racing!

Marc Fisher: Exactly right. So should the cops charge all of the spectators?

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Arlington, Va.:"If you drive a car when you know, for a fact, that you shouldn't, then anything you do in that car is your fault."

Utterly devoid of common sense. Suspended license or not, there is no evidence that Bullock was driving in any way other than safely. The liability here is clear: If you step out onto a highway to watch a race, then anything that happens to you on that highway is your fault.

Ticket Bullock for the suspended license, sure, but don't pretend that that had anything to do with this accident just because it's easier than thinking about the actual facts.

Marc, when is the last time you've driven a car? It doesn't sound like you have a very realistic view of what this driver was up against.

Marc Fisher: Why does it have to be either/or? Isn't it possible that everyone involved shares some of the fault?

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Fairfax, Va.:"But his record tells us something important about what kind of driver he is."

Not really. You can have your licence suspended for simply not paying a ticket on time. (And no, it doesn't have to be a moving violation. In my case, it was expired tags on a parked car.)

Marc Fisher: Here's what we know about his suspension:

"According to the records, Bullock was cited for speeding twice in 2005 and in January 2006 was cited for going 30 mph over the speed limit. On May 27, he was pulled over and charged with driving with a suspended license and having a child younger than 16 without a seat belt in a vehicle, Charles County court records show."

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Alexandria, Va.: MF: "his record tells us something important about what kind of driver he is."

But it doesn't tell us anything about how he was driving that night. It doesn't tell us anything relevant about the facts of the accident. All it amounts to is a predisposition not to like him -- i.e., a bias not based on relevant fact.

That's the same reason why Cpl. Washington's record has not come into evidence in his trial. The trial is about what happened that day, not whether he has been a bad person at other times in other ways.

Marc Fisher: Right, but it's right and proper to consider everything we know about someone before rendering judgment on their actions. Outside of a courthouse, that's how we all judge one another--we think not only about what we've just seen, but about a person's character and history. When I read about McCain this morning, I thought not only about the immediate facts reported in the story, but about everything I've observed of him over many years, from his Vietnam captivity to the Keating Five to campaign finance and on and on. That changes how I process today's news, just as the record should alter how I look at this guy's driving on that fateful night.

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Hypothetical question re driver with suspended license: Okay, Marc, let's say someone wants to commit suicide by standing in the road in the middle of the night and waiting for a car to come along to hit them fatally. Would it make a difference whether the driver had a flawless driving record, or was driving with a suspended license?

Marc Fisher: Of course it would. It might not be decisive--if the suicide was determined to make himself as invisible as possible and stand there until he got hit, that would be a clear mitigating circumstance for the driver. But yes, the driver's past and present would have to be seriously weighed to get to a fair decision about whether he could have avoided killing the pedestrian.

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Richmond, Va.: That driver was expressly forbidden from driving. Of course his decision to break the law and disobey puts him fully at fault. Driving is NOT a right, but a privilege and if you do something to lose the privilege, you do NOT have the right to drive. If he'd obeyed the law, those folks would be alive now.

Marc Fisher: Quite right. So even if the driver followed the rules of that road, the fact that he took it upon himself to endanger the rest of us by violating the rules of his suspension is sufficient in my book to assign some of the blame to him.

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Suspended license again:"Arlington, Va.: "If you drive a car when you know, for a fact, that you shouldn't, then anything you do in that car is your fault."

Utterly devoid of common sense. Suspended license or not, there is no evidence that Bullock was driving in any way other than safely."

Whatever happened to personal responsibility in this country? So the fact that he may have been driving safely exonerates him, even though he shouldn't have been driving in the first place?? I guess I'll keep that argument in mind the next time I'm arrested for having sex with a minor -- hey, officer, I was using protection. Never mind that the statutory requirement is nonnegotiable.

Marc Fisher: Good one.

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Washington, D.C.: I think the whole idea behind holding someone responsible for any accident that occurs when he or she is driving without a license has more to do with discouraging the activity than meting out justice or finding out who's actually at fault. If you want to discourage driving without a license (and therefore without insurance) you make the potential consequences quite severe.

Marc Fisher: Having sat in traffic court on far too many days in pursuit of one story or another, I am keenly aware of how many folks drive despite having suspended or no license at all. That doesn't in any way excuse this incident, but it does cry out for stronger penalties that might provide a disincentive to flaunting the law.

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Waldorf, Md.:"So should the cops charge all of the spectators?"

Yes, just like they charge every underage kid at a party with a beer in their hand or alcohol on their breath.

If there weren't spectators, there wouldn't have been a race. The spectators are as culpable as the racers are in this activity, because not only are they standing in the street, but they're bearing witness to illegal (felony level) activity without reporting it to authorities.

Marc Fisher: Yes, the police policy of charging all kids at an underage drinking party was exactly the analogy that came to mind. Law enforcement is about sending messages about what behaviors are unacceptable.

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Charge Everyone?: I don't know. But those cowards who ran away after the accident deserve something. Eight people were killed, more injured and instead of staying to help, direct traffic, wait for an ambulance etc., they ran away. Literally, left people dying on the side of the road. In order to protect themselves. Clearly they knew the drag race was illegal, clearly they knew they were witnesses and clearly people needed help. This angers me so much. Show a little human decency.

Marc Fisher: Charge them all--that seems to be the consensus. A quick look through the queue and I don't see a single person arguing the other way on that.

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RE: "someone should tell the driver of the Crown Vic that it wasn't his fault": I'm glad the poster doesn't agree with the friend. I don't see why, when stuff like this happens, people think they have to take a side with the driver or the victims. They were both wrong. And it's still sad.

Marc Fisher: Right. Tons more comments on this story, but we're running low on minutes, and most of the comments repeat themes we've been tossing around this hour. I'll turn to a few other topics quickly before we wrap up.

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Law and Order pants-suit episode got me thinking: The recent rerun of the Law and Order missing-pants episode got me thinking: If Roy Pearson really did get someone else's slacks, then who got his, and more importantly, why were they never found? I'd think Judge Pearson would've had a real stake in finding that person who got his pants.

Marc Fisher: Pearson never seemed to want to engage on that point. Nor did he have the obligation to do so. But the pants that the dry cleaner presented as Pearson's certainly weren't claimed by anyone else. In the end, I concluded that Pearson was simply confused about which pair of pants he had put in for alterations.

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Annoyed at the DMV: I went to take my driving test to get my D.C. license this morning at the Brentwood DMV. There were several police and fire trucks there when I arrived, and they'd closed off part of the parking lot. The fire trucks left, there didn't seem to be anything wrong, but they kept that section of the lot closed off.

The building I needed to go into was not affected, but they decided to cancel all driving tests for the day "because people won't be able to find parking in the lot." Well, I was there, found a legal spot, and was ready to go. One of the DMV employees was complaining loudly that she'd still have to work, even though the driving tests were canceled, and that those of us who showed up for the tests were lucky because we got to go home.

I did not get to go home. I had to come to work, too, but only after wasting an hour at the DMV for a test that didn't happen. And now I have to take time off next week as well for my rescheduled appointment.

Marc Fisher: Frustrating, to say the least. As Mayor Fenty said this morning about the Rosenbaum case and the emergency services department, there's still a long way to go in changing the attitudes of many D.C. workers.

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Not "flaunting the law": FLOUT, Marc, not flaunt.

Marc Fisher: Absolutely right--thanks for the quick correction.

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I thought I was the only one!: When I was taking my walk one morning last year, a squirrel jumped (okay, maybe he fell) on me! Scared the you know what out of me.

Marc Fisher: It's part of their long march campaign to push us out of their territory.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc --

Technology has revolutionized virtually every profession in our society in the past decade or two. If you are a doctor or lawyer, you would be committing malpractice by practicing the way they did a generation ago. Yet somehow the public sector in general -- and police departments in particular -- seem resistant to the implementation of productivity-enhancing technology. In many police departments, the last major technology adopted was the radio, and before that the automobile. When Charles Ramsey was chief in D.C., he never seemed to take seriously the notion that a functioning 911 system was the responsibility of his police department.

The use of video recording as a productivity-enhancing technology has been common in the private sector for decades, and it is undisputed among security professionals that it is effective and efficient. Why is it such a big deal in the public sector?

Marc Fisher: Two main reasons:

--It removes the human factor and the ability of police officers to discern when and where to hold people to the letter of the law.

--It's not particularly cost effective. As the Soviet empire learned, it's one thing to set up automated surveillance of the people and quite another to put together the staffing to make sense of all the data you collect.

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Richmond, Va.: What real losses did the computer lady incur? She was financially compensated, and all her "suffering" seems to have been self-inflicted.

Marc Fisher: Right--she should be compensated for the value of the lost machine, which she was.

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Arlington, Va.: For years I've enjoyed taking out-of-town visitors to see The Awakening (especially fun to do at night). I just looked at the pictures of the move and the sculpture in its new location. I have to say that the new site is even worse than I feared -- the sculpture will no longer be a destination for me. Do you know if the different pieces are situated in exactly the same way as they were on Hain's Point? In the picture, at least, it looks like the leg is located too far from the head and so the body looks out of proportion. It really is a sad thing that the sculpture was lost from Hain's Point -- it was the perfect place to install it.

Marc Fisher: Apparently they are making some minor adjustments in the spacing of the pieces to make it a bit more lifelike, but generally it will look the same. In very different surroundings.

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Falls Church, Va.: For a while, John McCain was calling me at my house all the time. He was so warm and charming on the phone; we really seemed to be developing a relationship. Now that the primary's over, he hasn't called again! He dumped me, after he got what he wanted. Isn't that just like a man?

Marc Fisher: But not to worry--like a man, he'll be back when his latest fling ends. I figure on sometime after Labor Day. Just you wait and see.

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703:

I was on a grand jury in the District for 7 weeks. (yes, 7 weeks) I can tell you that in all the surveillance camera videos we were shown, not one was remotely helpful. At most you can see shadowy figures and gun flashes. There is no way to identify a person from these images.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--good to know.

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Vietnam Memorial Visitors' Center: For that matter, why not fix up the World War I memorial, which is in disrepair, and add something explanatory to that? Virtually no one alive today remembers WWI and the public probably knows less about that war than about Vietnam.

(I'm kidding -- I don't want to see a visitors' center at EITHER memorial, but the WWI memorial does need fixing up.)

Marc Fisher: Yes, very good point. The condition of that memorial has been a shame for too many years.

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Alexandria, Va.: So I went out of my way the other day to take a peek at the new Nationals Stadium. I've been observing it from the other side of the river for much of the construction. The drive up South Capitol Street was an entirely new experience, but I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the stadium. It looks amazing on the inside and all of the pictures that have been published reveal a very lush and fan-friendly interior. However, the outside makes the stadium look like nothing more than a convention center. I was completely perplexed how a baseball stadium could look NOTHING like a stadium from the outside, but there I was driving past a building that had ZERO personality or architectural interest, something every baseball stadium should have. Not only that, but there was already a light out in the word "Nationals," or should I say "Nationls." $600 million for THAT? Good Grief!

Marc Fisher: Well, actually, it was designed to look something like the new convention center. It's an unusual skin for a ballpark, much sleeker than most, and very different in feel from the old-timey brick sensibility of most new parks. I'm waiting to see how it looks all dressed up with signage, but so far, I kind of like it.

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Dukes?: I am going to save your Elijah Dukes "yay" so that when he gets in trouble again we can all say we told you so. He has a history of disruptive, even anti-social behavior dating back years, so we should believe him now because he has stayed out of trouble for a few months?

Marc Fisher: I aim to serve. Please do toss those words back at me when he implodes. Which he very likely will. Let it not be said that Potomac Confidential never grants the benefit of the doubt.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc, do you watch The Wire? (Best show on TV, by the way.) If so, I was wondering what your take was on the newspaper aspect of this season, where a major focus of the storyline is on the metro newsroom of the Baltimore Sun.

Marc Fisher: I don't get HBO so I likely won't see this series for a year or two, but I admire the writing and acting in The Wire (and did so even before they were generous enough to write me into one of the episodes.) I caught two of this season's episodes in a hotel room and they very accurately captured the angst, sense of doom and weary anxiety that permeates the newspaper industry in this time of declining profits and diminished reporting.

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Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.: So I've moved back to D.C. after four years in San Diego where the local media is a completely biased cheerleader for the city even with it's massive municipal scandals and financial problems. Contrast that with The Post's utter hatred for anything having to do with the District. A story like the MPD closing 71 percent of homicides should be a positive story is once again presented negatively. Would you admit that The Post is playing to its primary market of suburban readers by constantly running negative stories about D.C.?

Marc Fisher: Not in the least. The story you're talking about, reporting the big boost in closing rates for homicides in the District, was hardly negative; to the contrary, that was a report of some splendid news, along with good questioning about how and why this has come to pass. The coverage of the city is voluminous and covers the waterfront. Obviously, our job is primarily to point to problems and explore the unexplored, but part of good storytelling is to find the joys and pleasures in life in any place we cover, and we--and I--try to do that all the time.

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Marc Fisher: Thanks to all for coming along--we're way over the limit. If you're near Manassas this evening, I'll be moderating a panel for the Prince William Committee of 100 on blogging and ethics. Please join us. It's at the Sheraton Four Points in Manassas--dinner at 7 and discussion at 8, I believe.

More on the blog every day and back in the paper on Sunday. Now run and get that last loaf of bread.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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