Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, May 15, 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.

Kaine Should Try Alternate Route To Transportation Financing ( Post, May 15)

Fisher was online Thursday, May 15, at Noon ET to look at the Martin Luther King Memorial sculpture controversy, Washington's high rank in the rude drivers survey, and Gov. Tim Kaine's latest transportation tax plan.

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


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. In 2002, Northern Virginians voted down a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for transportation improvements. Now, Gov. Tim Kaine proposes to impose double that increase in the sales tax for the exact same purpose--with no voter voice this time. Good move or arrogant overreach? Today's column offers my view--what's yours?

The Sunday column looked at the controversy over the sculpture of Martin Luther King that a Chinese artist is building for the King Memorial to be erected at the Tidal Basin. I came down on the side of scrapping the planned sculpture and starting over. Or do you think we need a 28-foot-tall King staring at us with his arms crossed?

Plus, how about that traffic around the dedication of the new Wilson Bridge this morning?

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

Yay to the Washington Nationals for finally taking a return shot against the Baltimore Orioles. While the O's continue to do everything they can think of to diss the newcomer franchise, the Nats have played it polite and friendly up until now. But with the two teams playing in Baltimore this weekend, the Nats have sent the racing presidents, their Screech mascot and the Nat Pack (those overly friendly, annoyingly cute human mascots who roam the stadium making everyone feel a bit cheesy) to wander Baltimore's Inner Harbor distributing Nats promotional wares. Nice move--happening even as we type.

Nay to the National Park Service for an overreaction to the finding that arsenic levels are higher than legally allowed in the soil at Fort Reno Park in Northwest Washington. The park service immediately shut down the entire park, apparently for a very long time, even though there is no evidence of any health effects. Indeed, the government's own experts say you'd have to eat a load of dirt from the park to get ill from the arsenic. This is yet another case of legal hypercaution ruling over common sense. Is the tiny chance that someone will get cancer decades down the road really more of a health threat than denying recreation space to thousands of children and adults who use that park for sports activities?

Your turn starts right now....

_______________________ Kaine Should Try Alternate Route To Transportation Financing ( Post, May 15)

_______________________ High Arsenic Levels Found At Fort Reno Park in NW ( Post, May 15)


Vienna, Va.: I agree wholeheartedly with your suggestions for Virginia transportation that

1. developers should pay for the roads and mass transit (and education plus other infrastructure) required to support new development,

2. the gas tax should be raised rather than the sales tax, and

3. the above should apply state-wide.

But it seems to me there is no chance any of these will pass in the Virginia Legislature, and if a gas or sales tax proposal appears as a referendum this year or next, it will not pass.

Do you agree, and do you see any solution?

Marc Fisher: Yes, you're absolutely right--none of those measures is likely to pass anytime soon. But that doesn't mean that Kaine shouldn't be pushing to do the right thing. Especially when his more cynical proposal also is dead in the water. If this were a simple matter of doing the less honest thing because it's politically easier, I could see a path toward accepting that solution as the only way to get the transportation dollars rolling again. But since the Republicans have made it clear that they won't support Kaine's tax plan, then wouldn't he be better off fighting for the just and fair approach--if only to try to lay the groundwork for future success?

_______________________ At This Point, MLK Memorial Needs a Fresh Start ( Post, May 11)


Vienna, Va.: This transportation issue has gotten old. The gas tax isn't indexed for inflation and people don't seem to recognize that the real money they pay for road maintenance and construction has steadily declined over the last 22 years.

I read lots of anti-tax people argue how there is so much money "wasted" in the state's budget, but I don't see anyone explaining the effect inflation has had on the transportation budget.

Marc Fisher: Between inflation and the soaring cost of basic materials--steel, especially--transportation infrastructure costs are skyrocketing, with no end in sight. That makes it more important than ever before to get to work on the backlog of projects that has been allowed to pile up.


Falls Church, Va.: Virginia hiked its income taxes not long ago (on Mark Warner's spurious assertions of a crisis) and wound up with a huge surplus. State tax revenue skyrocketed in recent years with the booming economy. Yet even though they've been swimming in all this taxpayer money, the Va. government hasn't found the money to devote to transportation.

Now they say "This time we're serious; this time we're actually going to spend your money on transportation." And we're supposed to believe them?

Marc Fisher: That lack of credibility is a big part of what killed the sales tax proposal that voters nixed in 2002. People have seen big money flowing into transportation for years, without much relief on the roads. But look at the last couple of decades and there have been major roads built in northern Virginia, such as Rt. 28 and the Prince William Parkway, and of course the new Wilson Bridge. It's mainly the local roads that are woefully out of date and cannot handle all the new housing that's come along.

But you're right--the big surpluses of the boom years went elsewhere. And even if transportation money were boosted, there's no clear assurance that the northern Virginia money would stay here.


Gridlocked Alexandria, Va.: Marc, Marc, you sweet babe in the woods. When will you realize that America is the Land of the "Free" -- that is, Americans want the best of everything at little or no cost to them.

Jim Gilmore was elected governor on a platform of "vote for me, and I'll eliminate the car tax." Never mind how the loss of income was going to be covered. Fast forward to 2008, where presidential candidates from both parties suggest that the federal gas tax be eliminated this summer, which would only hurt the already depleted transportation trust funds.

Instead of being laughed out of town, Gilmore is now the presumptive Republican senatorial candidate. To beat Mark Warner, just watch what similarly boneheaded campaign platform he develops.

The typical proposed alternative to raising taxes is to cut "waste," which voters define as any federal program or service that doesn't directly benefit ME. This is why we have political as well as literal gridlock.

Marc Fisher: You obviously have a point, but I think recent political history in Virginia tells a different story. The elections of Warner and Kaine as governor point to a growing sense in much of the state that just cutting taxes isn't going to hack it, and the problems in transportation, schools and social services require the actual spending of money. Warner remained extremely popular even after raising taxes, and top Republicans in the state tell me that they think Gilmore has about as good a chance of winning the Senate seat against Warner as Hillary Clinton has of winning the Democratic nomination for president.


Washington, D.C.: Marc: I wanted to thank you for diving straight into the issue during last week's chat around affordable housing for young, middle class families in this area. It was a topic of discussion at our company-wide meeting this week and our executive team was a bit horrified at some of the comments we were receiving from our 25-35 year old staff members. They were shocked because a high percentage of them (eyeballed at around 60 percent) plan to leave the immediate area within the next two years because of the housing issue. We've never found it to be an issue to recruit young workers to our organization (we're based in a fun part of D.C.), but we're lately we're encountering a major brain drain at the middle management level as many of our D.C.-based colleagues are moving out to the far burbs or to a more affordable city. Either way, they typically leave our organization.

A bit of a ramble, but thanks for providing a forum for the discussion.

Marc Fisher: This is actually a nice segue from the transportation issue because it's really the same discussion--is this region in danger of pricing itself out of its own prosperity? If people don't want to move here or stay here because housing is so expensive and traffic is so miserable, then that does not bode well for NoVa and MoCo remaining the economic engines of Virginia and Maryland, respectively.

A housing solution is very tough--smart growth incentives to increase density in the inner suburbs and the District are an important piece of the answer, but not nearly enough to make a real difference in prices and supply. But a transportation fix is doable--if politicians and business leaders were to take on an honest campaign to confront voters with the choices and costs of making the needed improvements.


Alexandria, Va.: Two comments: first, traffic was horrible this morning due to the dedication for the 2nd WWB span. I travel from Va. into Md. on the outer loop, which was backed up to at least Van Dorn. Why? Rubbernecking on the WWB to check out the giant U.S. flag, the fire engines, bleachers, tents and news crews on the inner loop's new span! Inner loop was backed up an additional 3 miles from the usual St. Barnabas Rd. back to Branch Ave.

2nd comment: why is anyone allowing a statue of MLK with terrible body language (crossed arms over his chest) to even be considered? This is not the image MLK or his family would want to portray. Sure doesn't look anything like the MLK I've ever seen in photos (I'm 44 so my memories of the actual man are non-existent). Thanks, Marc!

Marc Fisher: The amazing thing about this morning's monumental backups was that no lanes were closed, no path obstructed. This was purely a matter of sightseeing by drivers who should know better. Why do people slow down to gawk at a bunch of trucks? Why not do the sightseeing at speed?

More important, why didn't the officials schedule their party for off hours?


Baltimore, Md.: Marc: Just wanted to follow up on the discussion last week about living in one city (Baltimore) and working in another (D.C.), which I do.

My circumstances are somewhat unusual because I had just closed on a house in Baltimore in late 2000 when I was headhunted for a high-paying job in D.C. -- high-paying enough that it made me give up 10 years of self-employment and start riding the MARC train.

In hindsight, I should have sold my Baltimore house around 2002 and bought a condo here before the huge price runup in D.C. But I didn't and the thought now of trading a mortgage on a 3-bedroom, porchfront row house in a safe neighborhood (now paid down to about $68K) for a $250,000 mortgage (if I am lucky) on a 1-bedroom condo doesn't make sense.

Yes, I am beat half to death by the end of the week, but I am single, so family life doesn't suffer. And I have jammed large amounts of money into savings and investments which, given my age of 60, is a prudent move.

This is all by way of answering your statement that you couldn't understand why so many people live up at the northern end of the Parkway and work at the southern end. The answer is, purely and simply for me, economics -- and I am sure that is the case for a lot of folks.

Marc Fisher: Thanks for the explanation--that helps. But I wonder: Since by your own account, you end up each week "beat half to death" by the commute, is the fact that you've been able to save a bunch of money really worth that? Are you planning to change the way you live to then take advantage of those savings? Or is this just a pace and manner of living that you've decided to settle for? I think a lot of folks start out in such cumbersome and tiring scenarios thinking it will be temporary, but then fall into a habit and just stick with it, never quite realizing how unhappy they are.


Arlington, Va.: Why do I feel that Kaine's proposals are a fraud? I think most of money is going to Metro-To-Reston and the mysterious "Transportation trust Fund." When I look at the projects that the Northern Virginia authority proposed a year ago they don't solve any real problems.

Also, question. In lieu of expanding I-66 inside the Beltway, why don't they go back to HOV-3, or expand the HOV-2 hours? Or even turn the entire freeway into a lexus lane during rush hour?

Marc Fisher: I think your skepticism is quite typical--thus, the big No vote six years ago.

But if anything, the Virginia plan is tilted more toward roads than transit. Yes, the Metro to Dulles plan is preposterously expensive and reeks of overcharging. But there are lots of other, smaller-scale transit projects that could be better funded before building new highways out into the land of future sprawl.

Re: I-66. Why should it be reserved for those who are willing and able to pay megabucks to drive to work? Everybody's tax dollars support the highway, so why shouldn't there be equal access to it?


Vienna, Va.: Lots has changed since 2002. At that point, we were knee-deep in the SUV era. Since then, we've come to understand the connection between cars and global climate change and the price the Iraq war has exacted in terms of the cost of gas. We are in a totally new era. The no-new-taxes-at-all-costs line in the sand is outdated and out of touch with the current reality. Thus, I was unhappy to see you dredging past attitudes because I think they are no longer relevant. I believe people are willing to sacrifice something (in terms of paying a limited number of new taxes) in order to get congestion relief.

Marc Fisher: I hope you're right. The early signs that Americans are finally turning away from SUVs and other gas guzzlers may indicate that $4 gas is finally the price point at which people are willing to think about changing their behavior. But I wouldn't be terribly sure of that, and I don't see a groundswell of support for the kind of investment in infrastructure that is needed. Obama, for example, spent some time early in his campaign arguing for a big investment in infrastructure and the topic seemed to get no traction--the last couple of times I've heard his stump speech, he had dropped that piece entirely.


The Mayor-for-Life: What's the story with Marion Barry's 180 on school vouchers? His op-ed the other day seems to say that he's just decided it's a good idea and doesn't take money from public schools after all. Doesn't the timing of this seem a bit odd? He's been opposed to vouchers for years, and now he comes out in favor just as a major movement is afoot to reform the public schools. Is there more to this decision than he's let on? Not to imply that the ultimate "situationist" didn't have a legitimate change of heart based on an in-depth policy analysis, but... Choices for D.C. Parents ( Post, May 13)

Marc Fisher: With Barry, there's always some reason beyond the merits of the issue. I don't know of any personal connection he might have with the schools that are receiving the voucher payments, but it is odd that the city's elected officials have generally come around on the vouchers question. This was not only a classic case of Congress forcing something on the city, but it's also a waste of tax dollars--the vouchers go largely to support Catholic schools at exactly the moment when the church is shutting down a large number of its inner-city schools.


University Park, Md.: Why is the work on the MLK statue taking place in China?

Marc Fisher: Because that's where the sculptor is located, and he's hired 10 Chinese sculptors to work with him on the project. The Chinese stone is much cheaper than the stone available in Vermont or Georgia, and of course Chinese labor is much cheaper too. Even if the King Memorial Foundation thought it necessary to pick a foreign sculptor, you'd think they'd at least want the work to be done in this country, and that they'd at least want some young American sculptors to be able to apprentice on the project. But no.


MLK Statue: Um, don't the people who raised the money and sponsored the project get to pick how they want it to look? And it isn't like NOW is the first time we've gotten a look at the thing. You don't raise an objection this far along into a project and expect to be taken seriously, especially when others are paying for it.

Marc Fisher: No, the private foundations that have been the driving forces behind most of the recent memorials built on the Mall do not get to decide everything for themselves. Once the feds commit to the use of federal land, the government has and should have a role in determining what these memorials look like. After all, these are not private businesses, but public symbols and statements about our history and ideals.

And there is significant tax money in all of these projects, even if private fundraising does play a large role.

The reason this is in the news now is that we are at the point in the process when the federal Fine Arts Commission steps in to look at the design and render its opinion. So this is as good a time as any to demand a do-over.


Arlington, Va.: So who ended up taking the buyout? I haven't heard your name, so I assume you decided to pass?

Marc Fisher: As many of you know, the Post is today concluding its third and largest buyout in a series of moves that are reducing the size of the news gathering operation here. We are lucky to have a strong base of subscribers so that we, unlike most American newspapers, have not layed off anyone, but the decline in advertising revenue has mandated a shrinking of the newsroom.

Several dozen of my colleagues will be leaving the paper soon, and that saddens everyone here. I have decided to stay, both because I love what I do and because I am excited about being part of the reshaping of the newspaper and the evolution of whatever form newsgathering takes in the next phase of our history. The shrinking of the paper will inevitably mean that we do fewer things than we used to, but if we make smart choices about reducing the number of areas we cover, we can be every bit as good or even better in those areas that we decide to focus on in the future. And I know everyone here agrees that local news is one of the areas we will place the most focus on in the coming years.


Alcova Heights, Arlington, Va.: Given all the buyouts, why should people buy the Post anymore?

Marc Fisher: The buyouts are a strong reason for you to extend your subscription because the buyouts demonstrate what happens as some readers switch from the print edition to reading our work entirely online. We're all lucky to live in a region where the newspaper remains committed to lots of things that nearly every other paper in the country has long since gotten rid of--a complete set of foreign bureaus, national coverage, in-depth local coverage, a strong investigative team, and a top-shelf set of arts and cultural critics, as well as sports coverage from the pros to local high schools. But that infrastructure can only be sustained if readers continue to buy the paper.


Washington, D.C.: After drinking D.C. tap water for decades, I thought that I had developed a tolerence of arsenic.

Marc Fisher: And it's really not such a bad taste, is it?


RE: the government's own experts say you'd have to eat a load of dirt from the park to get ill from the arsenic.: It's like all the warnings we used to get about eating saccharin. In moderation, it's fine, but if you eat a gazzillion gallons per year you're going to get cancer. All these research studies only prove that force feeding rats an unusually large amount of anything isn't healthy.

On the other hand, I don't want the government to do nothing if we've got guidelines in place that require a cleanup.

Marc Fisher: Well, sure, nobody likes the idea of living on top of an arsenic dump, but consider that what you don't know generally doesn't hurt you. Do you really think that the discovery of arsenic both at the American University grounds that were once a World War I chemical warfare base and now at Fort Reno can be totally isolated cases? Isn't it fair to expect that the same problems exist in many other parts of the city? Homeowners probably don't want to know, and therefore we probably won't know. So why single out a park for the men in white suits treatment when there's probably a similar problem somewhere in the vicinity?


Richmond, Va. : When we drive to D.C. on 95, we see a grand building to our east about around Quantico. What is it? Museum, church, HiTech incubator?

Marc Fisher: Sounds like you're talking about the new Marines museum.

_______________________ National Museum of the Marine Corps


Washington, D.C: I am undediced on the MLK statue issue. But I thought your colleague Milloy's piece on how the statue is accurate, and not confrontational, but rather determined, to be an interesting read. What was your reaction to that article? From Many Points of View, Statue Is True to King's Image ( Post, May 14)

Marc Fisher: I liked the Milloy column--a good sense of why some people like the King statue as it's being built. I obviously disagree, but the people he quotes are correct that there are some photos of King in an arms-crossed pose. But they are not the usual image of King, and the sculpture as it is now planned doesn't comport with the King even in those arms-crossed photos. The King in the sculpture seems arrogant and authoritarian, with none of the wiser and gentler body language and facial characteristics present in many other artists' depictions. There's an excellent critique of the sculpture by the artist who was first hired by the foundation to be in charge of King's image at the memorial--he finds the sculpture to be almost frighteningly distant and even angry, and that's just a sad misinterpretation of the man.


Buyout: If it's not too late, Marc, please reconsider.

Marc Fisher: Thanks for your support.


Arlington, Va.: Will the Post be publishing a list of those who took the buyout, or do we just have to go to the Web site next week and see whose chat is no longer posted?

Marc Fisher: I'm sure there will be a news story on the buyout, and while it wouldn't make sense to publish the complete list--it's the rare reader who keeps tabs on which copy editors come and go at the Post--it would make sense to include in that story some names of prominent writers who are leaving.


Washington, D.C.: I'd love to support the Post financially without having to get a pile of dead trees delivered. Try as I might, I never manage to get through the papers and they just pile up and become a disposal problem. I'd gladly subscribe to the Web site, if only it weren't so hard for a paper with a national profile to charge for its articles and still remain relevant on the media scene.

Marc Fisher: You've hit on one of the toughest issues facing any media business these days. An entire generation of Americans has now grown up with the odd expectation that news is free, and in the next few years, it looks to me like we will see the result of that expectation: A wholesale dismantling of the newsgathering apparatus in every medium.


Taxi work stoppage: Have the taxis pretty much accepted that the meters are coming, or do you think most cabs are still resiting? I haven't seen them in most of my cabs I have taken.

Marc Fisher: I think we are seeing resistance in the form of drivers not wanting to spend the money to get a meter. Will that resistance continue after the June 1 deadline for enforcement of the new rules? I kind of doubt it, but most of the drivers I've had of late say they have no intention of getting a meter until and unless they are forced to. So maybe we will see a wave of ticketing and license suspensions come June 1. At this point, resistance seems futile, though.


Alexandria, Va. (Generation Y brain drain): Going off the earlier comment about the area potentially pricing itself out of sustainability, our company had a meeting of Generation Y folk, and the consensus was that we love our company, love our work, but a good number will probably be leaving the company in a few years because we can't afford the area. We can rent and spend all our money, or buy in an area 35-40 miles away, and spend our 'free' time in traffic -- which is not what we work to make money to do.

The problem is how do you convince an area that it needs to change? The younger generation, we are the ones in trouble of being priced out because we don't have experience to deserve $75K salaries that keep us here, and we know the problem. But the rest of the region generally doesn't see the problem, and a good number refuse to think long term and instead focus on one year out and how their individual lives will be better.

Marc Fisher: I think there is growing recognition of the problem, and you're starting to see some creative efforts at at least band-aiding the situation. More employers--mostly governments, but some private ones as well--are getting into subsidizing or supplying housing and day care. In my Washington 2025 piece in the Post Magazine a couple of Sundays ago, I projected the emergence of something akin to factory towns, in which governments and private employers will find themselves in the real estate development business in order to try to keep and attract employees. I think we will see moves in that direction very soon, and I know a bunch of developers who believe that is the future of their industry.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc -- Do you know if all MLB teams' theme songs are as thoroughly lame as "Nuts for the Nats" and "Orioles Magic"? Who are the nimrods that approve these things anyway?

Marc Fisher: But which of those songs is worse? And does either of them hold a candle to the worst of all of that ilk of song, "Meet the Mets?" (Or, as we knew it growing up in the Bronx, "Beat the Mets.")


Arlington, Va.: I read the article, "Drivers Still Among Rudest in U.S.; Area 5th-Worst Again in Survey (You Got a Problem With That?)" in today's on-line edition.

Nothing was too surprising until I read this paragraph "Just how are Washingtonians expressing their rage? Oh, the usual: Forty-nine percent said they had honked their horns in anger in the month before the survey; 35 percent said they had cursed at another driver; 8 percent said they had made an obscene gesture; and 1 percent said they had slammed into the car in front of them deliberately."

Look at that last sentence again. One out of every one hundred drivers has deliberately slammed into the back of another car in the month before the survey? If that was true, the Beltway would be littered with wrecks, with 20 mile backups every day. What could that sentence possibly mean? Drivers Still Among Rudest in U.S. ( Post, May 15)

Marc Fisher: Yes, that popped out at me too. I've been lucky enough not to have experienced that particular brand of personal expression on the roads. I am hoping that the category basically means the kind of love taps that parallel parkers well know, but maybe there are some wackos out there deliberately ramming their vehicles into others on the highway. Hard to imagine.


National Museum of the Marine Corps : Yes, that's it. Great buidling. Thought is was prob Marines Museum since by Quantico; will visit soon!

Marc Fisher: It's certainly striking from the highway.


Arlington, Va.: How cool would it be if the story about who's taking the buyout is written by someone who is taking the buyout?

Marc Fisher: Ouch. Not likely.


Arlington, Va.: Any chance your marketing types could stop giving discounts to "new" subscribers while charging loyal readers full price? They're just driving more and more customers to cancel the paper and read it on-line.

Marc Fisher: I doubt that would change--seems to me that this business, like any other, should go out of its way to offer new customers a chance to try out the product for next to nothing, expecting that they'll come for the novelty and stay for the quality.


RE: MLK: I can't believe the work was outsourced to save a few bucks. This is a national monument, is it not?

Marc Fisher: Yup. Pretty shocking, I think.

_______________________ Washington's Future, a History ( Post Magazine, April 27)


MLK: Why shouldn't the statue of MLK have arms crossed? Americans might want to think MLK was all kumbaya and please give us our rights. But he was a staunch FIGHTER for civil rights. His demeanor in the statue is symbolic of all the hardships black people have had to endure. A smiling welcoming MLK would belie the true history of this country. Consider it a conversation starter for entering the memorial.

Marc Fisher: Maybe this is a matter of different folks interpreting crossed arms in different ways, but if you take a look at the sculpture, I think you'll agree that this is not a confident and caring arms-crossed pose, but a tough, impersonal and distant one.


HCHS '88: You know what I'd like to see? A statue of MLK kneeling down over a plaza, smiling down at us, with his hand outstretched down on the ground. You walk onto his hand and up his arm, and you can stand on his shoulders and look out on the city. I think that would capture his ability to reach out to and elevate anyone and everyone, and symbolize his accessibility and his belief in people's potential, rather than seeming imposing and aloof.

Marc Fisher: Yikes, that sounds like a degree of hero worship that I don't think fits the bill either. There are so many iconic photos of King with his arm outstretched or in mid-exhortation that I'd think that would be the basis for a sculptor to start summoning an image.


Baltimore, Md.: The guy who's ridden the MARC train since 2000 again: If all goes according to plan, I will be retiring at 62 or 63 and moving somewhere -- anywhere! -- with a preferable climate. Like Portland, Oregon or, if I am really lucky, northern Scotland. (Yeah, I don't like heat, but rain doesn't bother me.)

So I am planning to change my way of living. Incidentally, I would look for comparable jobs in Baltimore for the first couple of years I worked in D.C., but the call came with $40,000 pay cuts.

You pay your money and you takes your choice, as my daddy used to say.

Marc Fisher: Right--or you try to have it both ways, as our Baltimore friend does, but as he says, there is a price to pay in time and exhaustion and lack of groundedness in a single place.


I have a good friend who lives in Baltimore...: and takes the MARC to Union Station most days. He likes it because he can read, do Sudoku, and on the way back, he can decompress on the train and be ready to play with his daughter. For folks who spend the same amount of time in the car in traffic, it helps a lot.

Marc Fisher: Yes, much more relaxing than the drive. But a big time drain, to be sure.


Rockville, Md.:"I can't believe the work was outsourced to save a few bucks. This is a national monument, is it not?"

I think the same thing about the Statue of Liberty -- a national monument built in France -- by the French!

Marc Fisher: Different--Miss Liberty was a gift from a foreign nation. Not commissioned by the U.S. in the least.


N.Y., N.Y.: Born and raised with the Orioles, happily transitioned to the Nationals, attended the first Mets game of my life last night. "Meet the Mets" is a million times worse than anything I've ever heard. It's so bad that when they announced it was time to meet the mets, everyone makes a mad dash to the bathroom.

Marc Fisher: Though I'll take Mr. Met over Screech or the Bird anytime.


the national statue should be representative of America : and there's nothing more representative of America's economy than outsourcing production to China.

Marc Fisher: Ring the bell, we have a winner.


An entire generation of Americans has now grown up with the odd expectation that news is free...: Yup, I'm part of this generation. I understand that this is a big change, and difficult for some. But at the same time -- it's not a surprise. Newspapers knew it was coming and didn't prepare. (They didn't act fast enough to save their classifieds from craigslist either.) From an outsider's perspective, this has forced newspapers to wake up from a decades-long inertia. And I don't think charging for the Web sites would work for my generation anyway (look what happened to NYT Times Select) -- especially, honestly, The Post. The Post site needs some serious work. Anyway, change happens. I don't think it will result in the "dismantling" of news, but I'm curious to see how it plays out.

Marc Fisher: How do you think newspapers could have saved classifieds? How exactly do you compete against free? Sure, papers could give away their classifieds too, and some do in some categories, but how does that help the overall revenue picture?

I agree that all is not doom and gloom, and I do think there is a basic desire for news and information that will save some form of newsgathering, but the dismantling is already a happening thing.


Re: subscription: The Post really needs to add an option for out of towners to support the paper. In Gene's chat there was some discussion about buying a subscription and then permanently going "on vacation" and donating the paper, but that seems complicated and I never pursued it. If I could buy a subscription like a regular subscriber and donate the paper I would do it. Subscribing to the "print edition online" just seemed really lame.

Marc Fisher: Yes, there ought to be a way for subscribers who rely mainly on the online edition to support the news operation. Perhaps a tiered system of access, though the experiments with that so far have shown that very few people are willing to pay for information at all online. It may be that the print version of newspapers and magazines survive to provide specialized coverage that is sold at a premium price.


Alexandria, Va.: Marc! Can you PLEASE tell me what Gas Station the Marylanders and DC'ers are flocking to in NoVA that has the cheaper gas prices?

Marc Fisher: Gosh, there are so many of them. Former Governor and Senator George Allen was a big fan of the Sheetz on Rt. 29 in Fauquier County. I like the Pentagon-subsidized station in Pentagon City. But there are a great many at a good 30 cents a gallon discount over Maryland and the District.


Washington, D.C.: Don't take this the wrong way -- but I don't have any more sympathy for newspaper people taking buyouts than I do for people taking buyouts from automakers in Detroit (one of whom was my dad). You are in an industry that hasn't evolved. Get off your high horse. You losing your job, or being bought out of it, is no more sad than a factory worker.

Marc Fisher: I have no real problem with what you're saying--there's no reason customers should think of a for-profit business as a charity. Either we attract paying customers or we don't, and that's our problem. So I don't know of any journalists who are looking for sympathy. Rather, we're struggling to find a model that works, and wondering what the impact will be on society as we take apart the means of keeping tabs on our government and other major institutions in this country.


JB: Any updates on the Poplar Point development?

Marc Fisher: Nothing new. I asked the mayor about this earlier this week and he said they're moving ahead and hope to resolve the D.C. United stadium issue "soon," whatever that means.


Bethesda, Md.: Help! I'm going to die of Arsenic poisoning.

One of the pieces about Ft. Reno said that you would have to roll around in the dirt to absorb significant amounts of the heavy metal. As a kid, I used to play ball there and, of course, took gym class on those fields.

Can I sue the Feds? Can I sue DCPS? Do I want to hire the pants judge to handle my case?

Marc Fisher: Rolling around isn't the same as eating. Come back when you've eaten several banquet-sized portions of the dirt.


Herndon, Va.: How do the Orioles "continue to diss the newcomer"? I'm a little confused by that. Are you talking about MASN? Or are there other instances still going on?

The downtown store is gone. Andy McPhail has done a pretty good job of putting a muzzle on Peter Angelos -- you barely hear from him anymore.

What else is going on?

Marc Fisher: Quite right--Angelos has toned down his act, and the O's store is gone. But MASN continues to favor the O's in virtually everything they do--watch an O's game with all the fancy graphics and pitch tracking and then watch a Nats game and you'll see quite a difference.


Alexandria, Va.: Sightseeing at Speed = major fender bender.

Marc Fisher: Certainly it's less distracting than talking on the cell.


Takoma Park: Purple Line rail vs. bus. A comment. Recently I heard an older male acquaintance from out of town use the phrase "fake trolleys" to refer to buses dolled up in train-like ornaments (i.e. "bus rapid transit"). This isn't someone who has a stake in the issue. He just hates the idea of fake trolleys at a deep level.

Any word on the endless series of "studies" for the Purple Line decision, and exactly what they are studying?

Marc Fisher: The Maryland transportation officials I've spoken to seem to have put the Purple Line on a deep back burner. Pretty much nothing doing there.


Washington, D.C.: On the transportation vs. housing issue: I'm a thirtysomething also thinking of leaving D.C. because of the cost of housing, but more roads really won't help. What we need is more density closer in. While I'm a bit tired of renting, I'm really not interested in moving to the far-out exurbs, not with the price of gas the way it is, especially not if I have to pass suburban-density neighborhoods within shouting distance of the Mall, practically. I'm looking at you, Tenleytown and Arlington. Unless you're talking about spending more money on Metro and sidewalk improvements to make dense, walkable development inevitable, increased transportation funding will have nothing to do with keeping me in the D.C. area.

Marc Fisher: The politicians have to hear from a lot more people like you before they'll develop a spine to stand up against the NIMBY crowd.


Maryland: Why would anyone plan a dedication ceremony on that bridge during rush hour or anywhere near it? Why not 2 p.m. on a weekend?

Marc Fisher: Why not 2 AM on a Wednesday?


Arlington, Va.: Time for a poll: should Marc Fisher's employer force him to take the buyout?



I vote yes.

Marc Fisher: And on that note of love, it's time to run along for today.

Just in: The California Supreme Court has voted in favor of same-sex marriage. Something to talk about when we reconvene here next week.

Thanks for coming along and have a lovely weekend.


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