Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, November 20, 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, Nov. 20, at Noon ET to look at your suggestions for how President Obama could make himself at home in Washington, the mounting confrontation between Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. Council, and the troubles in the auto industry and their impact in this region.

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


Washington, D.C.: Very, very helpful and important column today! The Council freezing this program is just very bad news. What are they thinking? My question is: Have you looked at the other programs they have "frozen"? Why did they target programs that benefit our city's most vulnerable?

Marc Fisher: It's always a lot easier to do across-the-board cuts and freezes than it is to single out specific programs, but the danger is that you end up reversing important cost savings. To the council's credit, they seem to realize that the Housing First initiative will end up saving money, so they are trying to restore some of the money and look for ways to keep the program growing.

But I'd far rather they take the time to look at the tens of millions in earmarks for fly-by-night community organizations that rely on giveaways from the District and that deliver questionable services.


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks--this will be our last hour together before Thanksgiving, so I'm curious to hear if folks are curtailing holiday travel plans because of the economic situation.

And in the holiday spirit, how about a contest? The president-elect and his wife said on television the other day that they plan to be active in Washington--of course, it would be hard to be less a part of the city's life than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been. But just how can a president in this era of hypercautious security really engage with the city? Come ahead with your suggestions about concrete ways in which the Obamas could make themselves at home in--or have an impact on--the Washington area. I'll post as many of your ideas as I can here, and I'll continue the conversation on the blog, Raw Fisher, next week. And the best--smartest, funniest, most effective--ideas will win prizes from the Vast Vat of Values, so tune into the blog next week and I'll announce the winners there. If you see your entry picked, please email me with your name and address and I'll send out your prize.

Lots of reaction today to the column, which looks at whether the D.C. Council's cut to the budget line for Mayor Adrian Fenty's Housing First initiative makes sense, especially when it costs considerably less to give homeless people an apartment than it does to pay for their lives on the streets.

Speaking of holiday travel, as we were, what are your thoughts on the prospect of an auto industry bailout? Would the bankruptcy of GM and possibly one or both of the other Big Three automakers have much of an impact on the Washington area economy? GM has a small plant in Spotsylvania County, and of course this area has lots of car dealers--any other businesses that you'd see taking a hit if GM goes down?

Last week, we started to get into the question of long lost friends and relations suddenly getting all friendly with their Washington buddies so as to cadge a place on the couch for Inauguration Day--I welcome your stories and discussion on that....

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

Yay to the D.C. Council for swallowing hard and approving the nomination of Peter Nickles as attorney general. Much as I disagree with some of Nickles' decisions and much as I am disturbed by his cavalier approach to the council and his contempt for the District's residency requirement, the city simply doesn't really have an attorney general. Sure, the name of the corporation counsel was changed to AG to sound just like the grown-ups in real states, but we don't elect our chief lawyer, and that means that the mayor deserves some leeway in choosing his own man. Until and unless the city adopts an elected AG system, the council should show deference to the chief executive in the selection of the person who manages the legal office.

Nay to the Prince George's County Council for its decision to treat one of the symptoms of drug abuse rather than attacking the problem itself. The council voted 8-1 this week to ban the sale of single cigars, which some kids hollow out and stuff with marijuana. Of course, this will do nothing to diminish drug use--people will buy the full pack of cigars, or they'll continue to buy singles, but from somebody on the street rather than from a store. This sort of showboating by legislators steers attention away from the real problems and only serves to build cynicism.

Your turn starts right now....


Silver Spring, Md.: Okay, Mother Teresa I'm not, but couldn't the man who makes daily calls to 911 to be transported to local ERs take the bus or the Metro instead? I realize he's supposed to be sympathetic, but, sorry, I just don't buy it. Homes for the Homeless, Bargains for Everyone (Post, Nov. 20)

Marc Fisher: Of course he could and of course he should, but the point is that he didn't take the bus, he called an ambulance. And he did so a staggering 270 times last year, and you and I paid for it, in a big way. So the issue is not getting him a bus pass, the issue is preventing him and people like him from racking up those huge bills and jacking up medical costs for everyone. If taking him off the street and subsidizing his apartment will dramatically improve both his physical health and his mental condition so that he stops calling 911, that's a huge savings for taxpayers, and the Housing First initiative sees improvements like that in nearly every case they deal with.


Washington, D.C.: Marc, I want my CFC contributions this year to help with providing housing to the homeless in D.C. What organization can I designate on my pledge card? The specific program you highlighted in today's column is government-run, but there must be some charitable organizations focused on the same mission. Thanks. Homes for the Homeless, Bargains for Everyone (Post, Nov. 20)

Marc Fisher: I've got a link coming right up--the group that is working with the people I wrote about today is called Pathways to Housing. It's a non-profit that does this kind of work in several cities; their Washington program is new, but it's already getting rave reviews. There are other private charities that do Housing First work as well, but Pathways seems to be leading the charge in the District.


Chicago, Ill.: Nice piece on Pathways to Housing. Chicago has a similar program, which is both uplifting and heartbreaking because the need is so much greater. And many of the homeless population need so much more than we can provide. (As far as we know, they're not calling 911 for daily lifts to the hospital, however.)

Based on your figures, if 2,000, or 1/3 of D.C.'s homeless population of 6,000, qualify for this program, that's nearly $50 million a year, not to mention the problem of coming up with that many apartments or SRO's, and staffing the various support services. But you do have to start somewhere, and it sounds as if D.C. is making a good start.

Can you tell I'm suffering from burnout? But stories like yours help us all to keep going. Perhaps they will inspire others to join us. Keep up the good work!

Marc Fisher: Thanks--you don't have to be suffering from burnout to ask good, tough questions about the cost of housing the homeless. But if you look at some of the studies comparing the costs of housing homeless people vs. paying for their medical care, police work, etc., I think you'll see that it's money well spent. Finding the housing is indeed a tough one, but especially in this economic climate, there are plenty of available apartments, and the people who are searching for the housing tell me that landlords are now calling them to offer apartments--quite a change from just a couple of years ago.


Bethesda, Md.: Many public school systems have canceled classes on Inauguration Day, (Fairfax, D.C., Prince George's, Loudoun, etc.) but a big county is missing: Montgomery. Any reason why Weast hasn't done anything and are there any plans to cancel classes?

Marc Fisher: Weast actually came out with a very strongly worded brief against closing MoCo schools for the Inauguration. He says it would cost too much and could mean extending the school year into the summer, and his best point is that not many Montgomery students are likely to head downtown for the ceremonies, which they could watch in school. I can certainly see the District closing, but what's the justification for closing suburban schools? Any closing would only inconvenience parents, who would have to scramble for child care. It's not as if most workers will have the day off.

_______________________ Pathways to Housing DC


Schools and Inauguration: Hi Marc,

Wouldn't the easiest compromise on school closings for Inauguration Day be to keep the schools open, but let anyone with a parental note skip out and go see the Inauguration? I say this as someone who skipped a day in a Pennsylvania high school to drive down and see Clinton's second in 1997.

Marc Fisher: Yes, that's a good compromise, and that's exactly what Supt. Weast in Montgomery has suggested--a liberal skipping policy for the day for those who are so inclined, plus an educational moment for those who stay in school. Sounds like a good plan, but there are apparently those on the school board who nonetheless want to shut the system down.

_______________________ Weast: Sorry, Kids, New Prez Doesn't Mean No School (Raw Fisher, Nov. 18)


Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: What are the odds that Peter Nickles will actually move to D.C., as opposed to renting a pied a terre where he spends the occasional weeknight? I personally wish the City Council had shown a bit more gumption. I thought he was bad news from day 1, and nothing that has happened since has changed my opinion.

Marc Fisher: It seems nearly certain that he will keep his promise and rent an apartment and perhaps use it as a pied a terre. But I'd be shocked enough to buy you a nice lunch if Nickles actually sells off his Virginia house and legitimately moves into the city that he claims to love and represent. I find it appalling that the mayor would choose as his top advisor someone who thinks so little of the city that he feels no compunction to live in it.


Anonymous: Now that we have a smoker about to be president, will the city offer the White House an exemption to the smoking ban? Is the White House covered? Or will President Obama need to step out to the Rose Garden like President Bartlett?

Marc Fisher: Interesting--surely the White House wouldn't be covered by the District's smoking ban; after all, it is a residence as well as a place of business. More important, as a federally controlled installation, it would find some way around any city ordinance. But haven't we been told repeatedly that the prez to be has switched from actual cigarettes to Nicorette or some such stuff?


Arlington, Va.: Marc,

Will the Obamas have to pay for their children to attend private school or do the schools typically waive the tuition since they are getting so much free publicity?

Marc Fisher: Oh, you can be certain that the Obamas will have to pay up just like the other families. The schools the Obamas are looking at (ritual disclosure: my kids attend one of the schools in question) are generally pretty publicity-shy and their financial aid is reserved for families that need it.


Hyattsville, Md.: Marc, what is an average working person to do? My husband and I have no debt except our mortgage. Credit card is paid off in full every month. We shop at thrift store. We save through payroll deduction. we do not live above our means.

Even so, the value of our 401k's and IRA's has gone down sharply. And we wonder whether we will ever be able to retire.

What can we do?

Marc Fisher: You're in far better shape than many people, though there's little comfort in that. The good news is that unless you lose your jobs, you should be able to muddle through and keep your house. And things will eventually get somewhat better. But since the entire population will now face the same retirement issues, that means that whenever a recovery does happen, there will be an entire generation of voters agitating for some structural change that would ease the path into retirement. I would imagine that a political solution would follow the economic recovery, though not necessarily promptly.


McLean, Va.: If Darian Houlton had tried the 911 scam anywhere near 200 times out here in Fairfax, we would have provided him public housing in the form of a nice war, dry jail cell.

Marc Fisher: Nice to say, but I don't think that's the case. Those who abuse ERs and 911 generally do so with no fear of consequences, for both legal and social reasons.


Homeless taking the bus or metro: If he's that bad off, could you consider the fact that he might not have the $1.35 it takes to get onto the bus? Or the $1.85 base fare for the Metro.

And, honestly, as a bus rider and Metro user, it's no more a place for the homeless than the ambulances are a free taxi service.

Marc Fisher: The real problem is not how he gets to the hospital, but the fact that he goes there at all. In both of the cases I wrote about today, they were spending all that time in the ER only in part because they were ill--much of it was about finding a warm place to stay, a bed, and people who paid some attention to their needs. Those are things that can be found much more affordably in settings other than the emergency room.


Any closing would only inconvenience parents, who would have to scramble for child care. It's not as if most workers will have the day off. : Very, very true. But then again, why does he cancel school when, as Gov. Palin might put it, a snowflake rears its head in the D.C. area? Most workers do not get off when it snows (I'm married to a teacher, believe me I know) but he cancels school all the time at the hint of it. That costs a ton of money and serves no educational value at all except to teach D.C.-area kids that snow is too scary to deal with. Why not cost the county all that money so that at least some kids can experience the inauguration. Will all of them go? Absolutely not, but if even some do it is worth it.

Marc Fisher: But those few who really do go can go ahead and do that without closing the system and inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of other people.

As for the snow, I'm not going to defend any of our flake-fearing school administrators. They hide behind ludicrous excuses to do with school bus schedules and teachers who live far away, but the bottom line is that they cavalierly shut the schools for no good reason, and they don't seem to care that they inconvenience vast numbers of people or that they waste the taxpayers' dollars.


NW, D.C.: For those that promote statehood for D.C., wouldn't a mayoral request for Congress to take over the school system or declare a state of emergency be a disgrace and a tremendous setback to those efforts?

I'm all for school reform, but I do not get this latest ploy at all. (It seems like every week I have a DCPS issue for you.)

Marc Fisher: Every time the District turns to Congress for some shortcut or special help, the city undermines its argument for home rule. If Chancellor Rhee is committed to breaking the teachers union and winning the ability to pay good teachers for their good work, then she needs to win that battle politically--within the city's limits and rules, not by going to the lords of the Hill to get them to wave their magic wand.


Alexandria, Va.: How's a girl supposed to have a nice afternoon if, after clicking on the Post site to tune in to her favorite chat, she reads, "Key Economic Indicators Suggest Deep Recession"? Got any cheery ideas for the afternoon?

Marc Fisher: You've got the right idea--ignore the tumbling of the stocks and hang out here--dream up some creative ways in which the new president can become part of the Washington scene, and pass them along....why, here are a couple right now....


Rockville, Md.: How about a monthly or quarterly sit-down dinner in the White House for community District leaders and people of note?

Let a few present ideas and have a discussion of what is of interest to the group. Then keep a working online group talking.

Marc Fisher: Ok, but presidents often come into office claiming that they're going to engage on District-centric issues, and then that just falls away. Remember Clinton's visit to Georgia Avenue in his first days in office? Nothing whatsoever came of that.


Settling in .DC.: For the Obama girls: A visit to NASA Goddard Space Visitor Center, a fantastic museum but not as overwhelming or big as the Air and Space Museum on the Mall.

Marc Fisher: I do hope the daughters don't end up as prisoners of the White House--a good First Family will know when to tell the security folks to stuff it.


Lost in cyberspace: What in the heck? This chat is from 2 years ago!

Marc Fisher: Apparently there are some, um, technical issues on the site right now, so you may be seeing some strange things. We'll just charge ahead and see what happens....


Chantilly, Va.: So with four million folks slated to be in town for the inauguration, I imagine most will use Metro. Even if only half of them use Metro, how will Metro respond so that we, as riders on their transit system, can continue to feel as if we're safer (regardless of whether we are or not) while they randomly search every 12th or 17th or 127th rider?

Doesn't that just highlight the inanity of the random searches?

What really gets my goat, though, is the timing of the announcement: the Thursday before the election. They did this on purpose so it would quickly get pushed to the back burner. Even you admitted on your chat that day that you wouldn't be able to discuss it until today due to the election.

Marc Fisher: I checked in with Metro this week and they said they have not yet conducted a single random search and they have no immediate plans to do so. So while I share your concern about the efficacy and the concept of random searches, I wouldn't worry that they will have any impact on the Inauguration Day crowds. But if the numbers are anything remotely like those reported earlier this week in The Post, that would overwhelm Metro, vastly outstripping its previous records for ridership.


Smoking in the White House: Apparently, Anonymous hasn't heard that Laura Bush has long been reported to be a closet chain-smoker. So it's pretty likely that the ashtrays in the private residence, at least, have been gotten a lot of use for the last eight years. Still, here's hoping Obama is able to break the habit.

Marc Fisher: You would think that people who have the extraordinary self-control and self-denial needed to devote their lives to politics at that level would also have the basic personality tools necessary to stop smoking. But perhaps not--perhaps the sociopathology that enables the expenditure of energy required of presidential-level political players is of a piece with the addictive personality that can't quit smoking.


Mount Rainier, Md.: Marc, Smoking at the White House, as a federal facility, are regulated by the portions of the Code of Federal Regulations accessed here:

Federal Management Regulation (pdf)

Interestingly, it appears the office parts of the White House would be required to be smoke-free, but a smoking area could be designated in the residence part. Of course, the WH is also a historic building, so those regs would apply as well.

Marc Fisher: I love this town.

_______________________ ADVISORY TO READERS: We are experiencing technical problems. One solution is to close your browser (X out of it) and then reopen it. This seems to have worked for some.


Falls Church, Va.: I see in the Business section today that Kaplan's for-profit universities provide over half of the WaPo Co.'s revenue. Basically, your employer is an arm of a diploma mill. How do you feel about that? Grayer Resigns As CEO Of Kaplan (Post, Nov. 20)

Marc Fisher: We're thrilled beyond words by the success of Kaplan, where the primary business is educational testing--the educational courses and schools are a smaller part of that business, as I understand it. In any event, I don't know of any allegations that they sell diplomas to those who haven't done the work, which is what a diploma mill is.

Kaplan's strength is an important part of the success of the Washington Post Company, and in this very tough time for all news organizations, that corporate strength helps this paper maintain its reporting staff here and around the world.


Chicago, Ill.: "Washington, D.C.: On Nats parking: what I don't understand is why they can't build above-ground garages with stores and bars lining the ground level story. I'm pretty sure the garage next to Ford's Theatre used to be like this, so I doubt there's a prohibition on it."

Marc, you pooh-poohed this idea, but it's a great suggestion. Here in Chicago, for example, every downtown parking garage has first-floor retail. To a pedestrian, the buildings are virtually indistinguishable from those around them.

Marc Fisher: We're hearing from some readers that two-year-old chats are popping up on your screens, which could be quite amusing, but wasn't exactly our programming concept for this hour. In any event, if that's where you're finding the bit about Nats parking, it is sadly still a relevant issue--nobody's going to build above-ground parking near the new stadium, but at the moment, nobody's building much of anything. When the construction process gears up again, though, the lesson we've learned from the first season at the Nats' stadium is that there's far less need for parking than anyone had initially imagined. People will indeed come by Metro, and are generally happy doing so.


Washington, D.C.: One of the TV anchors last night referred to the "brutal cold." What? This is perfectly seasonable weather -- it's not even below freezing in the city. What will they call it when we get down to the 20s or teens in January?

Marc Fisher: One man's brutal cold is another's pleasantly bracing chill. The one I can't stand is when the wall of summer heat slams into town in June and the TV morons put on a big grin and sing the praises of his "wonderfully warm weather." If the temp starts with an 8, that's nothing but pain for many of us.


Giving thanks to who?: I heard an ad the other day which included the phrase "autumnal dinner." I don't remember the company and I'd like to hear it again to verify that they were just using the phrase to be clever in a literary way, but that wasn't my first thought.

Marc Fisher: Ugh--anyone know the ad in question? If that's a politically correct euphemism for Thanksgiving, we should call out the sponsor...


Washington, D.C.: What can Obama do for the city? How about re-opening Pennsylvania Avenue?! Or is that battle lost forever?

Marc Fisher: Forever's a fairly long time, but yes, that battle is lost. Will someone someday want to build a tunnel to connect the two pieces of Pennsylvania Avenue? Perhaps, but that would have to be in a time after terrorism, and it's hard to see that time from where we sit today.


Washington, D.C.: The new prez becoming part of D.C.: We know he plays basketball, so I think it would be great if the president used his powers of persuasion to institute a pre-season tournament among the area's colleges and universities -- AU, GW, G'town, Catholic, Howard, Gallaudet and, yes, George Mason and Maryland could all participate. Would some schools be overmatched? Yes. But the community building effect could be extraordinary -- especially with the president presiding over the first tipoff.

Marc Fisher: And given Obama's decision this week to use his bully pulpit on behalf of a national championship in college football, it's reasonable to think he might want to get involved in hoops, too. If he could overcome the longstanding inability of Maryland and Georgetown to get together to play one another, that would be a good start.

Excellent idea...


Embracing D.C.: My suggestion for the President-elect would be to find some way of allowing east-west traffic through the Fortress White House zone, either on Pennsylvania Ave to the north or on E Street to the south. Various proposals have been made, but always rejected by the security-uber-alles forces. Pick a plan and tell your folks to implement it -- no excuses. It would go a long way toward reconnecting downtown with Foggy Bottom and reducing congestion, show that he actually cares about things outside the White House gate, and that he is calling the shots rather than the Secret Service that the President allegedly controls.

Marc Fisher: Sadly, I wouldn't expect this president to be the one who takes the lead in loosening security around the White House. It might not be too much to hope that he will tap the brakes on some of the homeland security hysteria, or perhaps take an interest in the horrific impression that our security mania makes on the Mall and at our national monuments. But the security apparatchiks are going to have Obama himself in a serious lockdown and the White House area is likely to stay just as difficult for commuters as it has been.


Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C.: With all the talk about where the Obama girls will go to school, whatever happened to Fenty's twins, aren't they in 4th grade now and shouldn't they be in a D.C. public school and aren't?

Marc Fisher: The mayor keeps promising that his kids will move to a D.C. public school. He has said repeatedly that they would stay at their Montessori private school until they age out of it, which would be this year, if I recall correctly. We shall see.


Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: The Obama daughters should attend a National Symphony Orchestra kids concert or two. Get 'em knowledged up about classical music.

Next time Chuck Brown plays Strathmore, Barack and Michelle should go to that. Besides the fact that Barack's favorite music is clearly compatible with the go-go swing, at the last show Chuck did out in North Bethesda, it was clear that Obama would have won an election in there 99.9 percent to .1 percent, with a .1 percent margin of error. Also, Huggy Lowdown called Chuck "the John McCain of go-go."

I call for Strathmore because it's such a classy joint (they could get a box!) and because security concerns should be fewer at Strathmore than if the Obamas just went to Zanzibar or whatever. Though I guess they could do that too.

Marc Fisher: It would be wonderful to see the oft-empty presidential box at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall get some use. Previous presidents, including W.'s father, got around town quite a bit and gave a real boost to cultural and arts groups, as well as local restaurants and other shops. This president has been almost alone in his lack of presence around town.

I wouldn't expect to see the Obamas out clubbing, but there's no reason they couldn't be regulars on the restaurant scene and certainly at local theaters, concert halls and sports events.


Anonymous: A small thing, perhaps, but the Obamas could adopt an adult mutt from the Washington Humane Society shelter and then publicly urge others to do the same (vs. buying pure-bred dogs), and also urge owners to spay/neuter their pets. I believe some organizations have used shelter dogs to help wounded soldiers in their rehabilitation and since Ms. Obama has become active in causes for members of the service, perhaps she could get involved in this.

Marc Fisher: Obama called himself a mutt at his news conference last week, but I think he had something else in mind.

I don't know a thing about dogs, but I do recall reading that Obama specifically mentioned the possibility of adopting from a shelter.


Alexandria, Va.: Instead of White House dinners for "people of note," Obama could continue an idea he used during the campaign. A couple of times, he held dinners with half a dozen or so supporters who made contributions during a specific interval. He could do the same without the contribution twist. Dinners could, perhaps, be organized around certain topics -- health care, education, or whatever -- but mainly the idea would be for the president to keep in touch with (at least a few of) the people.

Marc Fisher: One of the mandates Obama could fairly claim is the idea that voters didn't want their president to embrace a dumbed-down, anti-intellectual concept of the office. So it would make sense for him to restore the notion of the presidency as a sponsor of the arts and as an instigator of new ideas--Kennedy famously did that by hosting concerts and by inviting poets, philosophers and the like to the White House. That's a grand bipartisan tradition that I'd love to see Obama restore.


Suggestion for the President-Elect: How about ending the "security theater" charade in a few key places, such as the Smithsonian museums and the Mall on July 4th? Yank out the metal detectors and simply require quick inspections of large bags at the museums; rip down the cyclone fences and let people just experience the freedom they are supposed to be celebrating on Independence Day. Show people that we aren't going to be cowed into feel-good measures that have no impact on increasing our actual safety and well being.

Marc Fisher: Saddest part of the reopening of the Smithsonian American History Museum: Despite the beautiful work done inside the building, the exterior is still marred by butt-ugly concrete planters that are scattered about in remarkably antagonistic fashion, as if they'd just been dumped off the truck last week. But it's been seven years.


Falls Church, Va.: Marc, I would venture to guess that not a single employee of the Washington Post holds a degree from a Kaplan university.

Marc Fisher: Could be--I have no idea. But if people find value in the courses they offer and earn their degrees and find them useful in launching their careers--and they must, or else the business wouldn't be thriving--then someone must be doing something right.


TV morons put on a big grin and sing the praises of his "wonderfully warm weather." : I agree 100 percent. Since moving here 10 years ago I've always noticed that the local news people 1. hate cold weather 2. think of snow (any snow) the end of the world and 3. LOVE hot weather. The local anchors are happiest in late July and early August when to walk outside in D.C. is like having a hot towel draped around your face. You've lived here longer than I have, any idea why this is the norm down here?

Marc Fisher: It's obviously a hugely wrong assumption on the TV managers' part, perhaps based on the ancient notion that Washington is a southern town. But as the transformation of Virginia politics has made clear, much of the in-migration to the area has come from northern climes, so you'd think that our collective attitudes toward snow and weather would have evolved as well. But as much as you and I may agree, it's possible that even those who come from the north like warmer weather. Different strokes, you know.


Rockville, Md.: Wouldn't the easiest compromise on school closings for Inauguration Day be to keep the schools open, but let anyone with a parental note skip out and go see the inauguration? I say this as someone who skipped a day in a Pennsylvania high school to drive down and see Clinton's second in 1997.

Marc Fisher: Yes, that's a good compromise, and that's exactly what Supt. Weast in Montgomery has suggested -- a liberal skipping policy for the day for those who are so inclined, plus an educational moment for those who stay in school. Sounds like a good plan, but there are apparently those on the school board who nonetheless want to shut the system down.

-- Um, when isn't a parent's note insufficient to get a kid out of school? If we're going on vacation one week -- when school's in session -- the county is NOT going to tell me we can't go.

Marc Fisher: The implication of the superintendent's statement was that this would be an excused absence, which has implications for whether work must be done in time or made up--he specifically talked about accommodations that could be made for standardized testing scheduled for that day.


Arlington, Va.: re: Smoking in the white house.

A friend of mine worked at the FED RES when Paul Volcker was chairman. That was back in the day when there was only No Smoking in the elevators. Trust me when I say that NOBODY made the Chairman put out his cigars when he got on.

Marc Fisher: I don't get a strong sense that the White House, under any party's management, pays much mind to D.C. regs, whether they're about smoking, recycling, or anything else.


Auto Bailo, UT: I don't believe we have a choice. Bailing out Detroit is necessary, but all of the players must make changes in how business is being done. Upgrading the manufacturing technology, building greener vehicles, UAW accepting that slashing labor costs in terms of wages and benefits.

There's a national security element involved here, because you need a manufacturing base that can be converted to making tanks and such, if and when, God forbid, the need arises. That's why it's important to subsidize the steel industry, as well. The French get a bad rap for being cowardly soldiers, but the fact is that prior to mechanized warfare, they were among the best soldiers on the battlefield. But their industries don't allow for a wartime conversion. Wine, cheese and perfume manufacturers can't retrofit their production lines to make tanks and guns. That's why Germany ran all over them in the 1st half of the 20th century.

Marc Fisher: I'll grant you that even though we're unlikely to turn to GM to flip its factories into armaments assembly lines, there is a national security element to having some auto industry. But I have to say I am very much persuaded by the economists who've been arguing that there's nothing sacrosanct about GM or any American automaker that has so badly botched its business. There is and will always be a certain amount of demand for vehicles in this country, and if GM dies, then Toyota or Honda or some new homegrown entity will come along and try to meet that demand, thereby providing a similar stream of work to its suppliers and contractors.


Baltimore, Md.: Re Peter Nickles living in Virginia: Maybe they are not totally comparable, but didn't Mayor Williams hem and haw for years saying he was going to buy a house in the District and yet never did? However, I will grant that Mr. Williams was a good mayor while homeowner Marion Barry was....

Marc Fisher: Not quite the right comparison--Williams always lived and paid taxes in the District. It was just that he rented rather than owned (he finally is now buying a place, after all those years.) Nickles, on the other hand, chooses to live in Virginia--as council member Mary Cheh put it this week, is it even remotely conceivable that the residents of Maryland would stand for an attorney general who lived and paid taxes in Virginia?


Fairfax, Va.: How about having the new president issuing an executive order revoking the Nats absurd deal with MASN and prohibiting Peter Angelos from setting foot in the District (actually, let's make it inside the Beltway, just to be safe)? It wouldn't stand a chance in court, but would win him some mad love from the locals, especially those of us west of the Potomac.

Marc Fisher: I think he'd have to get a promotion to King of the Universe before he could do that, or at least to Commissioner--Bud Selig could make something like that happen, but of course, that's about as likely as the Nats winning the pennant next year.


Dogs: The Obamas need to find a hypo-allergenic dog (or dogs), because of Malia's allergies. As he pointed out at the press conference, that complicates the shelter mutt option. Still, I hope they at least go with a rescue group.

I'm all for encouraging adoption of adult dogs, but when I was 7 and begging my parents for a dog, I really, really, REALLY had to have a puppy. I think those girls deserve to get what they really want, after this long campaign. Maybe the best option would be for the Obamas to adopt both a puppy and an adult dog. (It's not as though staffing pet care is going to be a problem for them.)

Marc Fisher: Does the choice to have a dog in the White House mean that the taxpayers would have to add a dogwalker to the federal payroll?


Easing the path into retirement: What's retirement? I'm a Gen X-er, convinced I'll be working until I'm 80.

Marc Fisher: Aren't we all.


Arlington, Va.: RE: 401k losses -- unless you're retiring tomorrow, just remember that those losses are paper losses. You are still increasing the number of your shares every time you contribute, and when the market eventually picks back up, you will have a greater number of shares than you do now, and they will all increase in value. Those losses you're experiencing are only realized if you take your money out now -- the only thing to do is just spend wisely and stay the course.

Marc Fisher: I keep telling myself that what you say makes sense. Because the alternative is cat food.


Anonymous: I applaud your article, "Homes for the Homeless, Bargains for Everyone," and couldn't wait to show it to my employer! As an Emergency Services social worker who has treated Darian Holton on numerous occasions, I believe this type of program -- and the therapeutic communities (TCs)widely used in the state of California to treat addicts -- are strong solutions to offset some of our rising health care costs and shouldn't be ignored. Heralded by the (once-every 10-year) Strategic Drug Policy Initiative of the Clinton Administration but ignored by the Bush administration, TCs are proven to minimize costs, yet seldom get past the pilot-study phase. (They also provide valuable support and incentive to the homeless addicts while treating them simultaneously)! Obtaining appropriations and funding for these types of programs should be a key goal of Obama's health care reform strategy. Keep up the good reporting!

Marc Fisher: Thanks very much.


Weather: Cold weather is an abomination, and a punishment for sins of a past life. I don't even feel like living in the physical world until temperatures rise above 65, and true happiness occurs after they are above 80 and stay there. Rarely, I have the joy of basking, lizard-like, in 100 degree temps, but I was pregnant this year and could not enjoy my usual summer routine. Enjoy your cold weather -- I'll be huddled around my laptop until the end of May.

Marc Fisher: Yes, we are now debating hot vs. cold. We could do a full hour on this every week from now til The Big One. Maybe we should.

I'll only add this: With cold, you're in control--you add or subtract layers of clothes to adjust to taste. With hot, you're just a victim, nothing you can do about it. Once you've stripped down to the minimum, you can do nothing but suffer.


Alexandria, Va.: As we speak, Rep. Elijah Cummings is on TV saying that the TV stations say that the loss of sales of car ads could cost them up to 30 percent of their advertising revenue. FYI.

Marc Fisher: That's a lot. But TV stations were in trouble even before the auto industry turned out to be suffering this badly.


75762: If the Obama girls want to play sports, they should do it through D.C. leagues. That seems to be the best way to naturally get your foot in the door of a new community.

Marc Fisher: If they attend a D.C. school, it stands to reason that they'd do D.C. sports. It's hard to imagine that either the parents or the Secret Service would be too thrilled about long drives out to suburban leagues' games.


Dunn Loring, Va.: A Mont. County school board member said Obama's election will be unlike any other election result we would likely experience in our lifetime. Given the fact the women couldn't vote until after men, why wouldn't a woman being elected be on par with Obama's win?

Marc Fisher: It would certainly be momentous, and in some ways more of a change than this election has brought. But the election of a woman wouldn't have nearly the same emotional impact because of the stain of slavery and the role that race has played throughout American history.


Richmond, Va.: for some reason, the auto bailout makes me madder than the mortgage bailout. While both involved people making stupid risks we all know were wrong, somehow I'm madder at the auto execs pouring out huge honking gas guzzlers supersized SUVs that get 3 miles to the gallon and I'M supposed to bail them out. They're getting rewarded for making the greediest decision while I've been sensible all these years.

Marc Fisher: The justification for the first bailout was that if we don't save the financial institutions, our entire credit system would go down the chute. I never really bought that, but at least the theory was that everyone would be hurt by a mass failure. With the car companies, the argument is far weaker--sure, the automakers claim that 3 million jobs would be lost and there are obviously lots of little businesses that rely on the Big Three. But plenty of countries do perfectly well without major automakers as part of their portfolio and we could too. And in the end, someone would decide to make cars here rather than ship them in from Japan.


Fairfax, Va.: Marc,

I cant wait for school administrators to take your advice about closing for snow. Man I can't wait for my kids to be on the bus and in an accident. We will sue and say my children are now to traumatized to ride the bus and attend school and administrators should have known the danger. Should get enough in settlements to pay for their college education and my wife and I can retire!

Marc Fisher: You'd get nothing more than you would from any other accident and you'd deserve nothing. A snowstorm is an act of God and a good driver would do his best to navigate it safely, just as he navigates all daily obstacles to a smooth drive.

Weather is a constant in life and schools should move ahead unless the conditions are of once-a-decade severity.


Bay Bridge trucker: Hi Marc-

I was wondering if we ever heard about the report results from the teenaged driver that feel asleep at the wheel on the bay bridge? I know the trucker's family has been incredibly gracious and forgiving, but did we ever hear if alcohol played a factor in her driving?

Marc Fisher: Haven't heard anything. Anyone?


Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today--thanks for coming along and for persevering in the face of some technical issues that had some of you reading what I'm sure was a very fine chat show from two years ago.

No show next week because of a turkey dining opportunity. Back here with you in two, and on the blog every day. Thanks for coming along and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


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

© 2008 The Washington Post Company