Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, November 13, 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.

Latest Column and Blog Post: Gubernatorial Is One Thing Terry McAuliffe Isn't and New Orioles Unis: That's How To Do It.

Fisher was online Thursday, Nov. 13, at Noon ET to look at inauguration fever, the Virginia governor's race and the latest developments in the XM-Sirius merger.

A transcript follows.

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. Out of the frying pan and into the fire--here I was, all ready to break out of our politics rut and mix up the topics today, and then I go and write about next year's Virginia governor's race and the addition of the dynamic and different Terry McAuliffe to the mix.

So we'll get into that, but also into the inauguration fever that's sweeping the nation and threatening to put delirious Democrats on your front lawn come mid-January, and into--really, I promise--some genuinely non-political topics too.

Speaking of the inauguration, I'd love to hear some of the come-ons you're getting from friends and relatives who are scouting around for an extra bedroom, or other such stories. We've had far-flung friends and relations calling, including one who wanted to know if they could hop on the Metro to get to the inaugural ceremonies from a motel in Stafford County.

For those of you who are among the 10 percent or so of Americans who subscribe to satellite radio services, yesterday was a shocker, as XM and Sirius combined their channels into one much less varied set of formats and genres. I'll have much more on that on the blog tomorrow, but if you have reactions to what you've heard so far, come ahead with those.

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

Yay to Gov. Martin O'Malley's panel on the future of Maryland's death penalty. In their final report, they steered clear of the moral debate over capital punishment and instead focused on the practical questions around the fairness and efficacy of the ultimate penalty. Conclusion: The punishment is not meted out fairly and should be abolished in the state. It's a well-done report and worth consideration even from those who believe in the death penalty.

Nay to the D.C. Council for a clumsy approach to the budget cuts that all governments have to grapple with in the coming weeks. A freeze on spending is a blunt instrument and while major spending cuts are definitely in order, they shouldn't include cuts of initiatives that promise to reduce overall public spending. So the idea that it's wise to cut efforts to take homeless people off the streets and put them in housing is just wrong--the savings to the taxpayer when you get the chronically homeless off the street are enormous, in emergency room visits, 911 calls, police time, etc. Cutting a budget is a difficult art and calls for more careful work than the Council showed this week.

Your turn starts right now....


Friendly Maryland: How many people do we expect for the swearing-in of President-elect Obama on Jan. 20? Is it worthwhile to come down for the parade? Will it be total gridlock? Is Metro planning on running the buses and subway on a rush hour schedule? Will VRE and MARC trains run on a regular schedule? Should we stay home and get the best view on our own TVs or our favorite watering hole?

Marc Fisher: A lot, a lot, a lot. See today's Tom Toles cartoon for another way of saying that.

I see that 1.2 million came for the Lyndon Johnson inauguration. If that number is right, it's not unreasonable to plan for double that, but of course, that number is just silly, because that many people wouldn't be able to get near the Capitol. Even if you had video screens up and down the Mall, you wouldn't be able to move that many people into and out of the central part of the city in anything like a timely fashion.

So, perversely, my answer is Yes, come on down for the parade. As a local, you'll be at a huge advantage in that you'll know where you're headed and how to get there, and you'll know to get there well ahead of time. But if you actually want to see something other than just soaking in the crowd ambiance, then TV is your best bet.


MoCo, Md.: Marc, will you be around for the Inauguration or are you getting the heck out of town?

Marc Fisher: I will be wading into the very belly of the beast, soaking in the humanity, absorbing the collective vibe, filling my notebooks and reporting back to you as you lounge in your comfy chair at home, laughing uproariously at the poor souls who decided it would be fun to spend nine hours standing on a street corner seeing nothing but each other in the freezing cold. And you will get this report for absolutely no money. Is there a better deal on God's green earth?

_______________________ Tom Toles


McAuliffe: I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with your column's suggestion that Terry McAuliffe is not cut out for the Governor's mansion. Your colleague Chris Cillizza had an article yesterday that discussed the possibility of Chris Matthews running for the Senate in Pennsylvania.

The thought of either Terry McAuliffe or Chris Matthews being given positions of actual political power terrifies me. I say that as a Democrat. These guys are loudmouth blowhards who wouldn't recognize diplomatic behavior if it hit them in the face with a tree branch. Effective governance requires actual compromise and constructive dialogue, not just the ability to shout your opponents into submission. Please, no McAuliffe, no Matthews. Leave the job of governing and legislating to people who don't make a living by screaming at other people. Chris Matthews for Senate? (The Fix, Nov. 12) and Gubernatorial Is One Thing Terry McAuliffe Isn' (The Post, Nov. 13)

Marc Fisher: In today's column, I mentioned Ollie North, Michael Steele and (perhaps) Al Franken as examples of TV blowhards whose act did not propel them to the Senate. But as some readers have wisely pointed out, there are counterexamples of celebs who did persuade the people that TV/Hollywood fame is good preparation for public service: Jesse Ventura, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger....

Still, I'd be at least as skeptical of TV pundits making that transition successfully as I would of Hollywood actors, if not more so.


Columbia, Md.: I have to say, that while I agree with your comments on McAuliffe, I can't agree with your assessment of Al Franken's chances. There are those, even among Democrats, who don't like him, but now, the margin of votes is very, very slim, and the counting, not to mention the recounting, is not finished. He has a very good chance of coming out on top of Norm Coleman.

Marc Fisher: Right--it could go either way. I only included him hedgingly (yes, I know, no such word) because he was down a bit in the count at that moment, but no one knows how that one ends.


Arlington, VA: Marc, The Post today printed a report showing the Democratic challenger gaining a lead in the Alaska recount, but has so far ignored the Senate election that is being stolen by democrats in Minn - with 99 percent of the "found votes,, including a stack of absentee ballots "found" in the trunk of an election officil's car -- going to Democrat Al Franken. Why the imbalance in news coverage? Key panel named in Minnesota Senate race recount (AP, Nov. 13)

Marc Fisher: I don't see the imbalance--I read about the Minnesota "found ballots" right here on this web site. But I wouldn't assume instantly that that constitutes the stealing of an election. I've seen plenty of instances in my years of covering elections in which befuddled poll workers put the ballots in a shopping bag and misplaced it, or left it out with the trash and only later recovered the package, or any number of such seemingly impossible scenarios that add up to actual, innocent human error. I've seen those "lost" ballots help one party, the other party, and no party. Bottom line: Nearly all of the irregularities that so many people like to ascribe to evil intent turn out to be basic human dumbness.


Mount Rainier, Md.: Hey Marc, The election is over, so let's get back to something important -- Metro's bag searches. I am still aghast that Metro thinks they can do these searches as consensual. If they deny use of Metro because you won't allow yourself to be searched (without probable cause and a warrant I might add) then I think you are being coerced because Metro is a publicly funded entity, and should be open to public use. And, there's the minor point that bag searches won't stop a terrorist.

Your thoughts?

Marc Fisher: Of course, they've coercive, and of course it's silly to call them voluntary. They're as voluntary as the searches at airport checkpoints--you wanna travel, you get searched.

Now, the real question is, will they have any impact? Obviously, there's next to zero chance that the searches will catch a terrorist. So, let's take it two levels deeper: 1) Might they deter an attack? That's conceivable, but highly unlikely. Since they're only spot checks, all an attacker would have to do is walk over to the next station or wait a little bit till the random checks hour of the day is over. 2) Do they make riders feel more secure? Possibly, but more likely, they just add to the sense of living under siege--and an especially stupid form of self-imposed siege at that--that we already experience through meaningless ID checks at building entrances and randomly placed barriers outside buildings.


Greenbelt, Md.: What are the odds the security camera for Ronnie White's cell conveniently failed of its own accord just at the time he was being murdered?

Marc Fisher: Happens all the time, doncha know?

I mean, the street lights go out just as you walk under them, and the traffic light always turns red just when you--and I do mean YOU--approach, and the box office runs out of tickets just when I arrive. So therefore, nobody killed Ronnie White.


Fairfax County, Va.: I found your column this morning to be quite interesting. Honestly, when I first read that McAuliffe was contemplating running for governor, I was surprised to learn that he'd lived here for years. But his image is national. I would think he'd be more valuable in the fundraising arena this year and run next time. I mean, if I thought he's a carpetbagger, what are the folks in "Real Virginia" going to think? Gubernatorial Is One Thing Terry McAuliffe Isn't (The Post, Nov. 13)

Marc Fisher: Depends on how he behaves and how he crafts his message. Obviously, if he's in it for the long haul, he can do a Mark Warner and use this campaign as a way to introduce himself to the voters and to start forming the relationships and showing the commitment to the state that voters would want to see in a governor. But if, as it seems, he's in it to win it, and win it this time, then he has a much tougher path ahead of him, because he has to sink roots, make connections, send a message and persuade people of that message, all in about seven months.


Arlington, Va.: Is Bo McDonnell is a good candidate for the GOP for governor in 2009? I couldn't place him in a lineup and he seems to be running his office as a conservative. You have to wonder if this is saleable in the current political climate.

Marc Fisher: Virginia's attorney general is a talented politician, a thoughtful and attractive candidate, and yes, a very conservative guy who is now trying to speak in more moderate tones. The next year will tell whether that tonal shift has real meaning or is just a campaign tactic. A pure conservative of the sort that Virginia's Republican Party has specialized in over the past 10-15 years will not sell statewide in this climate.


McLean: Does anyone else notice how whenever an election is close enough to merit a recount that Republicans start yelling, "Vote fraud!"

Marc Fisher: Sadly, both sides now use this ridiculous tactic, and all it does is undermine public confidence in a voting system that is based almost entirely on trust.


For sha, ME: What? No NAY to Montgomery County for allowing those two officers to take disability retirement and still double-dip in other related jobs? I don't think so. My father's Social Security payment drops if he makes more than a certain amount of income. I think that Montgomery County should have a clause that if anyone on disability subsequently earns future employment (specifically employment as opposed to income from other sources), then the disability payment will be decrease by a compensatory amount. What a crock...and these people are trying to defend their actions. They are so disabled that they cannot perform their duties for Montgomery County, but they can for the Maryland state? Why couldn't they have accepted a transfer to a similar type job within Montgomery County? Because they wanted to cheat the system. Sheesh.

Not that our system is that much better, but this makes me glad I live in PG and not MoCo.

Marc Fisher: Abuses of that sort are just maddening, an unspeakable breach of public trust. I'm not sure why elected officials don't see that they could both do the right thing and win enormous popular support if they insist on severe crackdowns and punishment for those who carry on that kind of shenanigans.


Odenton, Md.: There have been 5 robberies in the Arundel Mills parking lot in the last month and you wouldn't know it to read The Washington Post. People at The Post always seem to think that their circulation area is limited to the Beltway, D.C. and Northern Virginia, but there are a lot of readers in Anne Arundel and Howard who only get their news from your paper, and not the other source in Baltimore.

Why has there been so little coverage of the problems with Arundel Mills?

Marc Fisher: To be frank, there are areas on the outskirts of The Post's circulation area where we don't have as many reporters as we used to, and that's a direct result of the forces that are hitting newspapers nationwide--as more readers shift over to reading us online rather than in print, revenues take a big hit and that restricts our ability to field the complement of reporters that we formerly had.

Figuring out how to serve all of the communities that depend on The Post is a big part of what our editors are working on right now, and I think you'll see the paper evolve in fairly big ways in the coming months, and I really have no specific notion of what that will look like, but I hope and trust that it will include a renewed commitment to covering our local communities in strong, smart and intimate ways.


Washington, D.C.: I got a very vague message from someone I went to high school with (about 10 years ago), just wanting to mention that he might be in town for the inauguration. I suspect he was fishing for an offer of free lodging. I have decided that my floor is open to anyone who can provide me with an inauguration ticket.

Now, the pressing question: what do I need to do to see the parade? This is my first inauguration in Washington. Will there be space along the parade route at all? I assume if there is I will have to camp out overnight in sub-freezing temperatures. Correct?

Marc Fisher: Oh, how thick I am! So the emails I've been getting from folks saying they "might be in town" for the Inauguration were really feelers to see if I might offer them a bed? I bet you're exactly right.

The good news for you is in today's paper: The number of bleachers for VIPs and ticketholders set up along Pennsylvania Ave has been cut way back to allow more sidewalk space for the great wash of Americans who just show up that morning. But even with that change--and you should credit the annoying radicals at ANSWER for pushing the government into that change--sidewalk space will be at a premium. If you really want to be there to see the parade go by, you're going to have to come very, very early. Like, camping out early, is my bet.


Crownsville, Md.: I don't live in Maryland's first congressional district, but I live close enough to Annapolis to have been bombarded by Kratovil/Harris ads. I am SO glad Kratovil won, because Harris's ads have to have been the worst of the worst. The Annapolis Capitol, hardly a liberal rag, had columns and editorials pointing out that all of them contained lies. I ran into former Gov. Ehrlich on the street and asked, how can you say Andy Harris is a good guy if his ads are complete falsehoods? I'm not naive enough to think this will end negative campaigning, but I hope at least it might put a tiny dent in it.

Marc Fisher: And how did Mr. Haircut respond to your sidewalk chat-up?


Death Penalty: I am completely a totally against the death penalty. I am a Christian and simply cannot understand the state sanctioning certain people to kill people. Clearly, others of my faith disagree with me. Understanding that bias can someone please explain to me how the death penalty helps victims families to feel better or "provide closure." I know myself well enough to understand that if one of my children were murdered no one's death would make me feel better. But obviously, intelligent and well meaning people feel differently. Are there studies that support this? Do victims families "heal" faster, "move-on" more quickly etc. if there is an execution?

Marc Fisher: I haven't seen studies on that, but I've spoken to quite a few families of victims who argue most emotionally and persuasively that just knowing that the person who assaulted their loved one is gone for good does make a real difference for them. Now, does that finality have to consist of death or does a life sentence without parole serve much the same function? And then you get into concerns about whether a life sentence is really a life sentence, or issues about the idea that the taxpayers are supporting the prisoner for decades (though there is good research showing that it's more costly to go through the legal process necessary to kill a criminal than it is to warehouse him forever.)

In any event, you can obviously go around and around on this, which is why the Maryland commission was smart to focus more narrowly on the questions of efficacy and fairness of application of the penalty.


Arlington, Va.: Marc, I was a supporter of the death penalty until I read John Grisham's "The Innocent Man." Now, though I still think some people deserve it, I can't support it any longer. Too much of a chance that an innocent life is taken.

Marc Fisher: I am also very much persuaded by the finality issue and the too-common cases of mistakes of justice that are discovered too late. But again, in Maryland, they looked mainly at who, how and where the penalty was being applied, and they found geographic and racial inequities that raise serious questions about the fairness of the punishment as exercised in that state, at least.


Hedgingly (yes, I know, no such word) : Sure there is.


Besides, if you use a word enough times they're forced to put it in the dictionary.

Marc Fisher: Ah, thank you very much--good to know.


So the emails I've been getting from folks saying they "might be in town" for the Inauguration were really feelers to see if I might offer them a bed? I bet you're exactly right.: Yeah, I am so literal. A friend e-mailed and asked if there were any B and Bs in my neighborhood and I actually took time to research and send her links when all along she was fishing for an invite.

Marc Fisher: Think of the Inauguration as a mass metropolitan sleepover. Interestingly, this seems to cross party lines. I keep hearing from Republicans who are (some happily, some grudgingly) hosting friends and relations for the Inaug.


Anonymous: Was this the most issues-related election year in recent memory? Prior years had wedge issue that most could not be legislated. but this year I think we saw a fair share of folks at least attempting to debate issues. That was even before the economic meltdown.

Marc Fisher: That's why I wrote back around Labor Day about how we were blessed to have two unusually strong choices in this election--this was probably about as serious a debate as we're likely to see in this media-political structure. That was partly a matter of the personalities and intellects of the candidates and partly a matter of the dire straits that we find ourselves in.


Tricky Coverage Questions: I have been internally criticizing The Post this election season for downplaying the historic nature of Obama's candidacy. I kept thinking that in a predominantly African-American city, the first serious African-American contender for the presidency should be getting blow-out coverage. As the election neared and the chances for Obama looked better and better there was more coverage of the race of the race. Stories of older black voters, etc. But then I read people in Ann Arundel county are annoyed that their mall parking lots are not being covered well enough and I can better understand that The Washington Post is really the Washington Ever-Increasing-Metro-Area Post and it makes more sense.

Marc Fisher: I need you to come down to meet the readers who argue that we over-covered the Obama candidacy. All I ask is to be allowed to watch and listen to the lovely conversation I'm sure you'd all enjoy.


Navy Yard: I feel like I must be friendless. I have yet to hear from one out-of-town friend that they are "coming to town" for Inauguration! Marc, at least you know you have friends! I apparently have nothing but my goldfish.

Marc Fisher: Be careful: Some other readers may want to send you their relatives.


Washington, D.C.: So can you explain something? Those of us who end up on the sidewalk, will we be able to see/hear the swearing in? I don't want to just see his car role by, I want to SEE them up there.

Marc Fisher: You can't do both. You can position yourself on the Mall, or wherever they set up video screens of the swearing-in, or you can take a stand along the parade route. The only folks who will be able to do both will be wearing uniforms. And I do not suggest doing that unless you're a sworn officer.


Silver Spring, Md.: Yes, it might be freezing and I am sure I will not see President Obama or his family but I will go the inauguration parade. I want to be with 1.2 or 2.4 million happy people -- especially those who traveled to be there. Living here, I will have other opportunities to see the president but this day will be like no other.

Marc Fisher: I think there will be a great many who reason exactly as you do, in which case I might suggest spots such as the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR, or even Arlington Cemetery--places where many will congregate, but that are far enough away from the center of the action so that you don't end up in human gridlock.


Crownsville, Md.: He (Ehrlich) sort of shrugged me off and said, there's a lot of that going on on both sides.

Marc Fisher: Not that we would have expected anything else, of course.

Thanks for the reply.


Washington, D.C.: Now that the president and Congress are soon to be both run by Democrats, will the D.C. Council attempt any more excuses to explain not passing a gay marriage law? Do you see it happening in 2009 or 2010? Didn't Fenty claim he would push this when he ran for mayor?

Marc Fisher: I'll bet you lunch that zero movement occurs on that front. The D.C. Council lives in mortal fear of Congress finding new excuses to stomp on the city, and any move toward gay marriage would create an alliance of convenience between Republicans and the same bunch of conservative Democrats who so happily jumped on the District's new gun regulations. For similar reasons, there will be zero movement on D.C. voting rights.


Falls Church, Va.: Re: the Minnesota election. Come on, Marc, we all know that if the roles were reversed, and bales of Coleman ballots were turning up out of nowhere, The Post and The NYT would be running stories about how "many people are concerned" about vote fraud. Maybe both parties do it, but the media coverage only runs one way.

Marc Fisher: Oy. No: Step back from the ideological precipice and do yourself a little web search. What's left of the media outlets that seek to cover the news fairly and without partisan agendas consists of reporters who love a story no matter which way it may lean, and in those outlets, you'll see coverage of such disputes, regardless of which candidate might benefit. And in those new media outlets that are ideologically driven, you'll see exactly the kind of selective reporting that you're complaining about.


Spare Bedroom In Virginia: Marc, I can top the Inauguration feelers. During the campaign, we actually got a call from one of the major parties (who shall remain nameless) asking us to host out-of-state canvassers FOR SEVERAL WEEKS in our home so that they could flood Virginia in the final weeks with thousands of volunteers without footing the hotel bill. "Wait a minute," I asked. "You want me to open my home to total strangers whom no one has done any kind of background check on so that they can come coerce my fellow Virginians on whom to vote for? Listen carefully to my response: (click)

Marc Fisher: For several weeks? Wow. Impressive gall. You have to credit them for making the ask.


Inauguration Balls: With all this talk of tickets to see the Inauguration itself, my real concern is the inaugural balls. What's the process for getting tickets to those? Is it based on who you know, or is anyone accepted so long as they pay the ticket fee? Inauguration Watch

Marc Fisher: Depends entirely on where you live. In the District, for example, the non-voting delegate has already cut off requests for tix. It's up to each member of Congress to decide how to dispense his allotment of tickets. But a secondary market is likely to develop--already has, actually. So if you want free tickets, you're in a long-odds lottery situation. And if you're willing to pay, it's gonna cost you big time.


Sec 114, Row E: Mark, you are right -- the Nats unis (new and old) leave room for improvement, even with the new changes...

But why should I care any more about changes to the Orioles unis than to changes that the Rangers are making? It's just another out of town team.

Marc Fisher: I ordinarily agree and eschew coverage of all things Baltimore, but in the case of sports franchises and a few other such phenomena, this region occasionally acts as one big market, and that makes the competition between the Nats and the O's very much a Washington area story.


Western Alexandria: Marc, you are giving Peter Angelo$ way too much credit. It took him what, four years to figure out that maybe he ought to admit his team was from Baltimore, Md.? Even when owned by MLB, the Nats uniforms made it clear they were from Washington D.C. From the start of spring training in 2005, they have had a uniform with the interlocking D.C. on it.

Why does The Post continue to fawn all over the Orioles? Their owner in on the record as being anti-Washington.

Marc Fisher: I hardly think you can accuse the paper of fawning over Angelos or his team. We continue to cover the O's, as we should, because they have many fans in our area and because our paper enjoys a large circulation in Maryland, which is the Orioles' primary market. But we have scaled down our O's cover considerably since the arrival of the Nationals and we correctly put far greater emphasis on the Nats.


Section 128, Row H: The National need to hire the designer of the new Orioles uniforms to re-do that Nats uniforms. I agree with you: the Birds' new uniforms are as classy as can be. The Nats' Curly W and star-spangled D.C. uniforms are tacky-tacky-tacky.

On the other hand, perhaps I should blow a kiss to the Nats' uniform designers. They are so ugly that my baseball fan wife won't want one, thus saving me about $125.

Marc Fisher: The only good news in the latest uniform wars is that since the Nats are still very much a work in progress, these uniform designs may not be around for very long.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Marc, as a radio guy, what do you think of the new Arbitron ratings system? It sounds so logical that I was surprised at how it has been criticized. Do you think the concerns from the "ethnic" stations have merit?

Marc Fisher: No, I think they are whining utterly without merit. The old and inherently dumb system of measuring radio audiences by asking people to keep a written diary of every time they hear anything on any radio anywhere was a system that everyone knew was wildly inaccurate. People can't be bothered to do that, so they write down either what they want others to believe they listen to or what they think they should be listening to.

The new system is wired for accuracy--it's automatic and it just records what you listen to. So yes, some stations take a dive in the ratings. That's just reality. I was pleased to see some companies whose stations are taking a big hit nonetheless acknowledge that this system is far superior.


20th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., NW: Marc,

Writing about XM today, not politics; I have XM in my car and have rented Sirius-equipped cars before so am somewhat familiar with their offerings.

I'm happy the three decades channels I mostly listen to are relatively unaffected (60s, 70s and 80s) especially Terry Young. Former Fred, Ethel and Lucy seem to even be a little improved based upon the hour I listened in the car last night.

POTUS and Fox News are still there but I'd really like them to get rid of the WSJ in the morning on America Right and maybe add Imus and also substitute someone for Sean Hannity, keep G. Gordon and Laura Ingram.

What most disturbs me is the AC/DC channel goes away the middle of January.

I really don't care about NASCAR but I'd really like to be able to get the remaining NFL games.

Marc Fisher: The NFL and baseball are among the very few real distinctions that remain between XM and Sirius. It's not clear why (or whether) the two services will maintain any separate identity if the company survives the next few years.


I miss High Standards! (Channel 73): Replacing High Standards with Siriusly (sic) Sinatra is a mistake. I loves me my Frank, but High Standards was so much more than that. what I heard last night was simply too Sinatra-focused.

Marc Fisher: Right, but you do get one big advantage--Jonathan Schwartz, the great chronicler of the American standards and songbook, is now available to XM listeners.


Camera Malfunctions: It's amazing how poorly a video recorder works once you turn it off.

Marc Fisher: That's from our earlier bit about Ronnie White.


Chicago, Ill.: Just a comment to Falls Church and the other Republicans who still post on these chats -- please back away from the "liberal media bias" angle. It's all you guys ever seem to talk about anymore. It may play well amongst yourselves, but to the larger community it sounds like sour grapes. And no matter how stridently you may believe in it, it's not a substitute for actually discussing the substance of positions. Thanks.

Marc Fisher: Not much time left today, so we can't get into a robust exchange on this one, but it's a good topic to pursue another week....


The other side of closure: Closure or not seems to be an individual response -- just as with general support/oppose the death penalty -- see Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation

Marc Fisher: Right--I've met plenty of victims' families who don't see any value in having the perpetrator killed, as well as many who will accept nothing else.


Capital Punishment: Why has there never been a push to tie the death penalty to the evidence available? So many seem to be put on death row based on testimony alone that when I was still living in Illinois, was retracted more often than not some years later. The governor commuted all death sentences to life sentences immediately after.

Do you think, given the history of retracted testimony in this country, we may have already executed an innocent man?

Marc Fisher: It's not likely, given the many levels of scrutiny that a case goes through during the years of appeals, but it's possible. We do know that DNA evidence has shaken out some of the certainty that had attached to some verdicts.


Anonymous: For gay marriage, when did the issue become marriage and vows, and not just an issue of common sense legal rights?

I'm not gay but I have a nephew living with us. He does not have health care. I either have to claim him as a foster kid or adopt him.

Marc Fisher: Agreed--that's part of why I think the government should get out of the marriage business entirely.


Anonymous: Marc: Can you give us something positive on DCPS? DCPS seems intent on staying in the news. The Obama's sending their kids to DCPS schools is sadly a ridiculous notion. I'm a native Washingtonian that went to DCPS schools in the 70s. They were not great then, but if you wanted to learn I would say that you could learn. However, it just seems that no one get's it with D.C. schools. One week it's the teachers (all 4000) are incompetent, then it's the parents, then of course it's Rhee, and now with this firing it's the principals' turn as the culprit. (I guess it's not PC to put any of the onus on the students themselves.) Nevertheless, can someone please sit down with the various groups and tell them that it's all of them! I cannot sit here and fathom being a superintendant/chancellor, but I know how I approach education with my own kids and DCPS isn't getting it. The 1st thing we look at when it comes to schools is the environment suitable for learning. Some schools you can cancel out before you get to the principal's office. You can see the chaos even in elementary schools. Next is academic structure and challenge, and the instructors. DCPS just seems lost and yet another group of kids are being lost in the shuffle.

Marc Fisher: That's why I have some sympathy for those who argue that it's wrong to keep experimenting on D.C. school kids, but in the end, the fact is that the city's children are being shortchanged, every single day of every single year. And that's what was at bottom so alluring about Rhee's approach--the apparent focus on the classroom experience. Is that focus straying? Hard to say, but as the political climate gets tougher, it will be harder for her to keep the lens focused where it ought to be.


Shrinking market for hardcopy papers: So you mentioned earlier the shrinking demographics of those who buy papers vs. those who get it free on-line.

Some of us who read the on-line version wouldn't mind paying some fee for the service. Why has The Washington Post not created some sort of fee for on-line service? My suggestion is having "free" accounts that can read articles and "small fee" accounts that can access articles and chats/blogs or something like that. I know some papers have it so that you can read the first part of longer articles for free, but you have to subscribe to read the full article. Any number of ideas. But WaPo should investigate some for-fee services on the Web site in their own self interest. As you point out, it will help most of the readership by being able to support more reporters and a greater coverage area. Unfortunately, it does often feel as those of us in Maryland get shorter shrift than our neighbors in Virginia.

Marc Fisher: Alas, every attempt to put some material behind a pay wall has failed. Notice that those who've tried have all backed off that model, most notably the Wall Street Journal, which had nearly all its content behind the pay wall for a long time; the NY Times, which had its columnists behind the wall; and the LA Times, which sought paying customers for its excellent Hollywood coverage.


Maryland: Hey Marc -- I'm a Sirius subscriber (two years now) and won't be renewing. I'm really into more obscure music, indie, underground, stuff like that and they have really tried to be too mainstream. And they have started putting in stations like AC/DC radio, Zeppelin radio, etc. I think they are buying into the "sell to the 19-35 year old male" idea and forgetting the rest of their audience.

And, FWIW, I'm at 40 something woman, and I don't want to hear Oprah and Martha Stewart...

Marc Fisher: I'm in a similar boat--I woke up yesterday to find that five of my eight preset stations were gone.


Re: Bag searches on the metro: The whole ridiculousness reminds me of one of my favorite jokes of all time: A man was riding a train from New York to San Diego, and he happened to be sharing a row with another man carrying a huge case on his lap. Every few miles, the man would pull out a tuba, honk on the instrument as loud as he could, and then slip it back inside the case. After a day or so, the first man asked the second man why in the heck he was doing that. "The tuba keeps away the tigers and elephants," he said. "That's ridiculous," the first man responded. "There aren't any tigers or elephants for miles and miles!" "You see!" the first man said. "It's working!"

Marc Fisher: Lovely.


McLean: Marc,

What happens to Bob Edwards and the WETA expatriates who have programmed XM's classical offerings?

Marc Fisher: Edwards is a real winner--his program staff is kept intact and he's now heard on both Sirius and XM.

Both of the former WETA voices--Martin Goldsmith and Robert Aubrey Davis--have been kept on, but sadly, Davis's baby, the superb Vox channel of choral music on XM has been killed, so there is now virtually no choral music available on satellite radio. Davis and Goldsmith are both now jocks on the Symphony Hall channel, which is the sole remaining channel for orchestral music.


Nats ballpark: Marc, don't you think the Nats should paint the seats on the left side of the stadium blue and those on the right red and proportion it out to represent the numbers in Congress. Maybe independents can be gray seats? Then perhaps they can add some red seats-blue seats games. Instead of white-out or black-outs that some football/basketball teams do, they can have red/blue-outs. On cap day or t-shirt night, they can make the color you get depend on what your seat section is. Whadya think?

Marc Fisher: Best idea I've heard in a long time. Please send that to the Lerners.


Montgomery County's Shame: Police personnel were just told that we (the worker bees) are going to be furloughed because there is no money in the budget. And why is there no money in the budget? . . . because cons like those "retired" police executives are double dipping and getting away with it. They should be ashamed!

So the next time you call the police. . . well let's just hope we're working.

Marc Fisher: We're just getting into the real cuts in both local and state governments, and the grand old political game of threatening truly scary cuts is well under way. But even after that game runs its course, there will be real and painful cuts this time around.


You CAN do both -- sort of: I plan to go downtown, either to the swearing-in (if my father can get tickets, as he lives in a conservative Republican district, where they might be less in demand) or to an unticketed area on the parade route. But I don't expect to be able to see or hear anything, which is why I will also TiVo the whole thing, to watch when we get home!

Marc Fisher: Right, through the miracle of time-shifting, you can experience the experience over and over. What an amazing time we live in.


Work camps?: I may be odd, but I've always thought that the death penalty let someone off without paying their debt to society. Sure, you provide closure by killing them, but they haven't really given back anything to society, they've only given up their life.

I personally am in favor of work camps that put convicted felons to work. Say the days of chain gangs working on highways or producing license plates or refurbing government furniture (I worked for many years in the 1990's on furniture refurb'ed at Lorton Penitentiary). Why don't we institute more working penitentiaries where convicted felons are put to work productively thereby paying their debt to society and still able to appeal or be found innocent by future technology but also being forced to pay for their debts. You could pay them something menial and those perpetrators of crimes with victims could have their pay sent to the victims. Those who committed victimless crimes could send have their money sent to their families. But the convicts themselves would not see the money (avoids feeding the internal black markets).

Marc Fisher: I'm with you.


Maryland PTA Mom: Our PTA tried facetiously attempted to get our principal to install slot machines in the elementary school lobby. Now the gambling is legal and slots are here to save the schools we felt eliminating the many, many middlemen and just hosting the gambling ourselves would be far more profitable. We joke, but our pretty sure these slot machines are not going to solve our school's shrinking budget anytime soon.

Marc Fisher: Then you wouldn't need to pay for school security--the casino companies could provide all the security needed, and theirs is vastly better than what any school can afford anyway.


Column of the Week: Wil Haygood's article about the White House butler was brilliant, moving and made me weep. The ending certainly packed a wallop. A Butler Well Served by This Election (The Post, Nov. 7)

Marc Fisher: Very popular feature piece, and deservedly so.


Silver Spring, Md.: Re: Dumb Metro bag checks

Walk into Metro station. Blah blah blah. "No, I do not consent." Walk out of station. Walk back into Metro station and get on the train. Dumb.

Marc Fisher: Should improve the market for street vendors.


Rockville, Md.: Regarding the death penalty, if a convict will be in prison for the rest of his life, why should they not get the death penalty? While they are alive, they are a danger. A danger to society should they escape. A danger to the guards in the prison. A danger to the other prisoners as why not abuse/fight/kill others.

There is no reason the convict should behave. Unless the convict is locked in a cell 24/7 (which would probably be unconstitutional), they are a danger and should be put to death.

Marc Fisher: Seems logical, but consider the cost, the finality question, and the fairness of application of that punishment.


Too much of a chance that an innocent life is taken.: Too late; the killer already did that.

Marc Fisher: Fair enough. But do two wrongs....?


Matthews: How hard do you think the Clinton's will campaign for him? For that matter, he is sure to really shore up the woman's vote. I cannot imagine Chris Matthews is the U.S. Senate.

Marc Fisher: Also, remember that even though the cable news channels' ratings shot up this year, they are still very much a niche offering, and most Americans never, ever watch those channels.


Blowhards on TV: Chris Matthews has at least worked in the Senate, the Carter administration White House and for Tip O'Neill. He's got a bit more experience than McAuliffe and Franken, wouldn't you say?

Marc Fisher: More than Franken, but McAuliffe's been around high-octane politics for a long time--granted, in a very different capacity from policymakers, but still.


Arlington, Va.: What kind of connection does Terry have to the state of Virginia. The Hillary gimmick (i.e., move to a state and then claim residency etc) may work in N.Y., but it shouldn't fly in Virginia. I would love to see someone like Tom Davis run for Congress, he would really take a bite out of the left's NoVa vote and he seems like a great candidate in today's political environment.

Marc Fisher: He'd definitely be a real contender statewide, but Davis, as we saw this past year, would never get past his own party's ideology filter.


Burke, Va.: Hi Marc -- I have to say as an "independent leaning Republican" voter in what I consider to be "real Virginia" I am duly impressed that Mr. McDonnell recognizes the need to attract suburban voters like me and intentionally has started his campaign efforts in Fairfax County and Virginia Beach, two formerly red areas that have turned blue as the GOP has nominated far-right candidates. Do you think he will continue these efforts?

Marc Fisher: In a big way. He realizes that he cannot win without making real inroads into northern Virginia. So far, he's mainly talking about how he grew up in Fairfax and went to school here, but that will soon have to morph into specific plans regarding congestion, funding and other NoVa issues.


Culpeper, Va.: Mr. Fisher, I have personally met both Delegate Moran and Senator Deeds, and find them both to be general election failures in most political environments. Senator Deeds has seems like an incoherent waffler of the worst kind, having trouble giving a straight answer or seeming confident doing so. Mr. Moran will have trouble appealing beyond Northern Virginia, endorsing (however policy-wise) highly unpopular tax increase proposals unhesitantly without the requisite nuance. McAuliffe has battled tough scrutiny from the national media, and was unwavering even as the primary season ended. McAuliffe is best positioned, in my mind, to endure a campaign against Bolling in this conservative state and push through unpopular but necessary policies to push through the party's agenda. Where do you disagree, and why?

Marc Fisher: All of the candidates have significant flaws--there's no slam dunk in next year's race. And you're right that McAuliffe will instantly bring big money, big media and big surrogates. But that could backfire if he's not careful. And the GOP has a big advantage since McDonnell is already chosen and the Dems have to go through a bruising primary first.


Education and the Republican Party: I am from Calvert County in Southern Maryland. A traditional "red" county. This year all the candidates that the Democratic Party endorsed for school board won. While changing demographics account for some of this; the candidates themselves account for most of the vote. Two-thirds of the candidates endorsed the Republican Party did not have college degrees (one is 19 and the other explained that "life got in the way.) They were less articulate, had committed less time to the schools and seemed more partisan. When I look at this and also see that less educated voters trend Republican, the hint of condescension towards "elites" I begin to wonder if the future of the Republican Party is dependent on a less educated electorate and what that means for the party and the country.

Marc Fisher: It's a real problem and I think the Republicans will have to confront that in the next few years and find a path that gets them back to appealing to the ever increasing portion of the country that is college-educated and bound up in careers that are brain-powered.


Annapolis, Md.: (sigh) -- as a gay man in a 15-year domestic partnership, I'm disappointed but unsurprised by the current controversy regarding California's Prop 8 vote and the ensuing backlash. I think a fair amount of this consternation is due to the linguistic wranglings over the "M" word, Marriage. Would you mind dusting off your prescient column from last year in which you made a similar argument? Thanks.

Marc Fisher: I think there's a link up on this--if not, we'll try to get it up here. Thanks.


Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today--thanks for coming along, folks. Lots of good stuff today. Come on back next week for more....

And do write if you get work.

_______________________ With O'Malley, Flip-Flops and Twisting Tongues (Raw Fisher, Sept. 27, 2007)


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