Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, December 4, 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, Dec. 4, at Noon ET to look at the District's decision to open bars till 5 a.m. during Inauguration Week, the sad state of car sales in the area and the federal government's green light for extending Metro to Dulles.

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--

So, given all the jubilation over the Obama inauguration, is opening the District's bars until 5 a.m. a recognition that people will want to party hearty, an insanely undue burden to put on the city's already-strapped police force, or an incitement to celebratory crowds to get plastered before they jockey for position on Pennsylvania Avenue? There's still time for the D.C. Council to reverse this week's decision to turn the city into an all-night party during the Inauguration week--should they make that move?

Today's column looks at the plight of local car dealers and the prospect that we'd have a lot fewer dealers in our midst--potentially with or without a bailout of the Big Three. Would that be a big loss for our communities?

Bye-bye, Chevy Chase Bank--the last of the big local banks to be swallowed up by out-of-town behemoths. Will that have an impact on local philanthropy, local investment and your banking habits?

Coming up tomorrow on the blog, Raw Fisher: The results of our contest last week on how the Obamas could best connect to life in the Washington area.

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

Yay to federal regulators who (finally, we hope) flicked the green light back on for Metro rail to Dulles, the on-again, off-again project that could be the only large-scale government response to the congestion nightmare of Northern Virginia.

Nay to the Northern Virginia airports authority, which yesterday voted to impose upon itself a travel policy that essentially codifies the very abuses that The Post revealed in reporter Amy Gardner's excellent stories about board members traveling to exotic locales on high-priced business class tickets. Board member H.R. Crawford now says that board members deserve to travel in high fashion because they're not mere "staff." Goodness, can't these politicians hear themselves?

Your turn starts right now....


Downtown D.C.: Hi Marc, in your column today you emphasized a number of times that local dealerships are going to fade in influence and begin to disappear as the primary means of selling cars. I'm curious to know what you think will replace local dealerships as the means of selling cars. Would it be direct sales? How would manufacturers do that? A Hole the Size of a Buick (Post, Dec. 4)

Marc Fisher: I talked to some dealers who think the basic model won't change much, but that there will simply be far fewer dealerships, especially in big metro areas like ours. But I also spoke to dealers who think the basic model by which cars have been sold in this country is inexorably changing, and customers will find perhaps a single showroom for each brand in each city, but most actual purchases will take place online.


Washington, D.C.: Marc, I've got a 2005 Le Sabre. I bought a new transaxle in July, so I've got a three-year warranty on that part. I'll sell if the price is right. Oh, and the GM Goodwrench people can't tell me why the transaxle failed at 48,000 miles. Anybody out there want to buy a slightly used Le Sabre?

Marc Fisher: Bad time to own a Buick, alas. I'm getting lots of mail from people who say that the rap against GM is unfair, that the cars have really dramatically improved in the last few years. But at least that many emails make the opposite argument, that because the American automakers have proven themselves incapable of competing on quality, they deserve to be allowed to collapse, perhaps to be replaced by new entrepreneurs who would start off with a much more rational cost structure.


Falls Church, Va.: If this is indeed the death knell for the local car dealership, my thoughts are "Hooray" and "Good Riddance." This dinosaur industry built its business model on deception, intimidation and sexism. No other business deliberately sets out to make the customer experience as unpleasant as car dealerships do.

The fact that they might throw a few measly dollars at kids' sports teams doesn't redeem them for me. Let them all die out; I'll keep buying from the no-haggle companies, and all of the sleazy car salesmen can go look for honest work somewhere.

Marc Fisher: As I was saying, the unhappiness with every aspect of the car buying culture in the Big Three model is pretty deep, and I don't see in the companies' proposals much of a sense that they understand their basic ways of doing business aren't working and aren't connecting with people who have become accustomed to very different ways of buying products.


Bethesda, Md.: So I just learned I will be losing my job. Okay, not officially but I know it will happen. I work for Chevy Chase Bank that is being sold to Capital One. Of course they say now no layoffs are planned, but this is what happened with my last job. The kicker is Capital One is using the bailout money for the purchase. Wow! What a great holiday present that is. Capital One To Buy Local Banking Icon Chevy Chase (Post, Dec. 4)

Marc Fisher: Yikes. It is indeed hard to imagine that there won't be cutbacks associated with that sort of purchase, but wouldn't some cuts have been inevitable even without a sale?

We think of this area as recession-proof, and it's certainly better off than much of the country. But the pain is here and more is coming, and all the business leaders I talk to say we haven't seen the brunt of it yet, and won't till after the Xmas shopping season.


Wesley Heights, D.C.: Marc, I have no problem with raising D.C. taxi fares, if this is in fact needed to bring them into line with suburban fares, but I see no reason for any gasoline surcharge when gas prices have decreased by 50 percent over the six months. D.C. Taxi Surcharge Ending (Get There Blog, Dec. 3)

Marc Fisher: Well, it's something of a wash, in that the gas surcharge is being rolled back just as the push for a very large fare increase is announced. But the bottom line for passengers is that the fares are jumping, just as some of us said they would when we warned against the switch to meters.

There's no reason D.C. fares should be nearly as high as those in the suburbs--the volume of work in the city is much higher, and the relatively higher profits on the short hops that characterize urban cab rides should allow D.C. cabs to maintain lower fares than those in the big suburban jurisdictions.


Zone 2B: As you predicted, and as I for one agreed, the taxi fare situation is unreal. I routinely pay $11-13 pre-tip for a cab ride that used to be two zones ($8.80 or $9.80 with a surcharge). Now they're going up?

What a rip-off. All in the name of some greater sense of misguided "progress."

Marc Fisher: There should be no question by now that fares are considerably higher for mid- to long-range rides--the Post's taxi fare calculator, right here on the big web site, can show you that quite plainly. The question for policymakers now is whether to eliminate the one savings that meters provided--some short haul trips downtown are significantly cheaper with meters, but that advantage will vanish under the proposed fare hikes.


Arlington, Va.: Your blog article about the Coleman-Franken race was interesting. However, the whole issue of trying to interpret voter intent could be eliminated if the voting system provided a printout, prior to the voter confirmation, of which candidates the voter has chosen. This would be similar to what the electronic voting machines do -- I'm sure they can do that with optical scanners as well. Who Said The Election's Over? How You Can Still Vote (Raw Fisher, Dec. 1)

Marc Fisher: Interesting idea--sounds like it would be a real crowd-pleaser, and goodness knows the election system could use a boost of public confidence these days.


insanely undue burden to put on the city's already-strapped police force: I absolutely agree with you. This policy is like a mugger's dream. Thousands of tourists getting smashed in an unfamiliar city at 4 a.m. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Also, can I just say that I don't remember D.C. doing this for Bush, Clinton or anyone else. I understand that it's historic because President-elect Obama will be our first black president, but sometimes the bias becomes too much. Really, do we REALLY need to celebrate the moment by drinking at a pub at 4 a.m.?

Marc Fisher: Who exactly is out drinking at 5 a.m.? This is not your average out of town Obama celebrant stopping by the local watering hole to toast the new president--these are folks who are on a bender, or are tanking up for an all-night wait out on the cold streets. I understand the police chief is mighty upset about this but has been muzzled by Mayor Fenty.


Upper Northwest: Any information on the inauguration for people without tickets? All of the information so far has been for ticketed people at the ceremony and those along the parade route. What about the rules and accommodations for the vast majority of the spectators who will be on the open mall? Will kids really not be (practically) allowed to attend way out by the Washington Monument?

Marc Fisher: Those without tickets will have to decide whether to try to get a spot on Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the parade or to head to the Mall to watch the ceremony on Jumbotrons. If your goal is to soak in the vibe on the street and be with your fellow Americans on this historic occasion, go to the Mall. If your goal is to see the parade and perhaps grab a live glimpse of the new prez, take your chances on the avenue, but do so knowing that your odds of getting close to the curb are poor.


Economy and emergency room visits rise hand in ha, ND: Yes, keeping the bars open to 5 a.m. Well, the whole "historic event" of the inauguration is going to swell the local economy, but I have a feeling that the businesses that will have the highest per capita increase will be emergency rooms. With the sheer volume of people expected plus the sheer volume of alcohol expected, I have a feeling that fights, accidents and crime will be at an all-time high. I expect that the numbers for January will rival all of 2008 and 2007. Good reason for me to stay outside the beltway and watch it on TV.

Marc Fisher: Also note that while thousands of extra cops are being imported from the suburbs and from other cities, those officers don't know the District from Dubuque, and they are here for crowd control only. To expect them to deal with drunken brawls and the like in Adams Morgan, Georgetown, downtown and up along U Street is folly. And the MPD will already be stretched to the max with extremely long shifts.


Dunn Loring, Va.: In your article about Maryland Police playing spy, why do you write approving of efforts to prevent military recruiters from preying on "unsuspecting high school students" but then turn around and act amazed that someone should disapprove of an environmental group trying to recruit high school students? In other words, why are attempts to encourage people to serve their country wrong but attempts to have those same people fight global warming acceptable?

Marc Fisher: I don't see the comparison. The green groups don't have school-sanctioned access to students, in school, in the hallways. I actually think the military should be allowed to make its presentations to students in school, but I'd limit that access much more than most of our area school systems have. The recruiters ought not be virtual staff members who hang out at the schools and get to know kids over time. They should be allowed in to make a presentation, as should other groups such as Peace Corps, college recruiters and Job Corps.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: re: the sale of Chevy Chase

I can only assume it WILL have an effect on my banking habits. I started at Chevy Chase with a passbook savings account decades ago. I currently have a checking and two savings accounts at Chevy Chase. My mortgage is from Chevy Chase, as is my line of credit. My paycheck is directly deposited into my checking account. I like doing business with the local guys, but since there are none anymore, I'll have go with one of the national monstrosities (possibly Capital One, but they don't have any real claim on me).

Marc Fisher: The last time I did business with a local bank, it was called Perpetual, and it turned out not to be.

I have to say that from a consumer perspective, dealing with an out of town bank doesn't make much of a difference, but from what I hear from business owners, it can make a big difference when you need a loan to start or expand operations.


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm sad to see CapitalOne buying Chevy Chase. I specifically opened my account with Chevy Chase because they were local, although the ATMs in metro stations and the Phone Booth/Abe Polin Center were a real nice bonus. I guess I'll see how this all shakes out, but I'm prepared to go to another local bank.

And I'll miss those corny Ben Franklin shilling for Chevy Chase commercials!

Marc Fisher: I just hate to see the big boy banks pretending to be local--it drives me nuts to see, for example, Pittsburgh's PNC bank doing all those ads about the Nationals and other local sports teams, as if they had some real allegiance to this market, when in fact, they run nearly identical ads about the local teams in the other cities where they operate.


Washington, D.C.: If it's a good idea to expand the hours of bars and restaurants during the inauguration, then what's the rationale for not doing so during the rest of the year?

Marc Fisher: Exactly--if this were part of a rational review of local liquor laws, with an eye toward creating a 24-hour entertainment district or two, I could easily be persuaded of the wisdom of expanding the economy with a ramped-up nightlife. But to do it for a few days, when the city's resources are clearly not prepared to handle the outcomes, seems irresponsible.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: "Also, can I just say that I don't remember D.C. doing this for Bush, Clinton or anyone else. I understand that it's historic because President-elect Obama will be our first black president, but sometimes the bias becomes too much."

Clinton had a huge festival down on the Mall, and in other performance venues around town. It was terrific. And neither of those two were expected to draw estimated crowds of 4 million people.

I'm not saying I necessarily approve of keeping the bars and restaurants open that late (I have no firm opinion), but people complain of bias at the drop of a hat these days, without any real justification.

Marc Fisher: Every inauguration, regardless of party, involves big public festivals and events. The first Bush inaugural included a Destiny's Child concert at MCI Center, for example, and both the Bush and Clinton bashes included parties all around the city. That's just the way these things are. Will the crowds be much larger this time? Sure, but it's not different in kind.


DC at Inauguration: I am SO GLAD our office closes every Inauguration Day, and especially for 2009. I don't want to be anywhere near D.C. for this mess. Besides, I'll take a 4-day weekend in January without a qualm!

Marc Fisher: I'm not saying the two will balance out, but I am hearing from lots of folks who are planning an extended trip outta town that week.


Arlington, Va.: Is this whole financial "crisis" a mirage or are people just not getting it? This week alone I have participated in and overheard at least 5 conversations about folks concerned that their Christmas, excuse me, Holiday parties, might not be as sumptuous this year as in the past.

Marc Fisher: Concerned, as in complaining? That sure sounds like ostrich-like behavior--I'm amazed that companies are going ahead with such parties at all, let alone that they are cutting back on the trimmings.


Annapolis, Md.: Marc, I am still trying to make sense of the numbers in Sunday's papers relative to the amount of money spent by local jurisdictions on poor children.

The article says that Prince George's County spends $69 million on 20,000 poor children each year. That averages out to $3,450 per child. For Montgomery County, the figures are $366 million on 13,000 children, or over $28,000 per child. can this possibly be true?

The article further notes the amount of revenue received each year by non-profit organizations in D.C. and neighboring jurisdictions. For D.C., the figure is $108 BILLION. If 1/3 of that goes to the poor, that would be $36 billion. For the sake of simplicity, assume there are 360,000 poor people in D.C. (I would think that figure is high). That comes out to $100,000 per person, seemingly more than enough to provide food, housing, health care and a very expensive car to each person who qualifies for aid.

What am I missing here? This has been driving me nuts. Thanks. Help Lags Behind Need in Pr. George's (Post, Nov. 30)

Marc Fisher: I have to say I share your confusion, and I don't know the answers for sure, so if anyone does, please come ahead. But I will offer this: A lot of those nonprofits that are based in the District are national or regional organizations, so the amounts that they raise do not necessarily translate into money spent purely in the District.


re Dunn Loring: Joining the military does not allow you to walk away if you begin to disagree with their policy or the people you deal with on a day to day basis. Any group that wants to have someone join them to help their cause can not have the "recruits" jailed for not showing up.

Marc Fisher: Right, but the issue here is more a question of how coercive the approach to high school kids ought to be, and how vulnerable high school students are to the military's well-honed come-on. For me, the bottom line is that enrollment ought to be a family decision, and so while the military should make its pitch as enticing as possible, it ought to do so in a setting where parents and teen can take it all in together.


Washington, D.C.: Marc --

First, kudos to you for taking the Maryland State Police to task for spying on their own citizens. The issue hasn't gotten enough coverage.

But I have to quibble with your take on the story. It seems from reading your posting that the big issue is that the MSP were clumsy and incompetent. Wouldn't it have been a whole lot worse if they had actually been good at the job, and dug up a whole lot of "dirt" on the people they were spying on?

Isn't the real issue an organization that has a culture that can't differentiate between dissent and sedition? And isn't that a real problem? And isn't is shocking that there appears to be no effort on anyone's part to address that culture, or any real consequences for anyone for what happened? Maryland Police Play Spies--And Look Like Fools (Raw Fisher, Dec. 2)

Marc Fisher: Thanks--my objections to the state police surveillance indeed were driven in part by the evident superficiality and meaninglessness of the endeavor, but my core objection is the same as yours: This is not reasonable or proper work for the state police. None of the folks whose files have been released should have been targeted to start with. There is nothing that's been released that in any way should have triggered law enforcement's attention. It's perfectly fine for police to stay aware of the actions of groups that are planning civil disturbances. But groups that are legally filing for permits to hold sanctioned demonstrations should be taken at their word and allowed to hold their protests without surveillance.


people complain of bias at the drop of a hat these days, without any real justification: Metro is printing a special fare card with Obama's FACE on it. Did we do that in the past for Bush and Clinton, etc? I think not. Sometimes there is a great deal of justification to point to bias, and the media and D.C. government are going a wee bit overboard here.

Marc Fisher: I don't recall that having been done before, and I totally agree with you. I think it's excessive and inappropriate to put Obama on the farecards. We don't have a king in this country, and we ought not engage in a cult of personality, especially before the man has had a chance to show what he can do.


Herndon, Va.: What kind of "print out' would you get from an optical scan voting machine? You hold the ballot in your hand and mark it. If you can't see how you've voted you got problems.

Marc Fisher: Agreed, but given the success that some very cynical people have had in sowing mistrust in our election system, a small adjustment of that sort could help to give some voters additional confidence.


Falls Church, Va.: "a printout, prior to the voter confirmation, of which candidates the voter has chosen"

A printout on paper would raise secrecy issues. A company or a union might demand that all of its workers turn in their printouts, for instance.

Marc Fisher: The easy way around that would be for the voter to check his vote on the printout and then toss the receipt in the trash even before leaving the polling place.


Ballston, Va.: Those folks worried about their quality of their holiday parties must not be Feds.

We pay our money for a holiday party with the hopes of leaving or sneaking out of work early.

My bro changed jobs this fall from a big 3 accounting firm to NASA. He is in for shock for his holiday party.

No Three Dog Night as entertainment, no fly your spouse in from anywhere in the world and put you both up for the holiday party. No bottomless shrimp cocktail or open bar!

Marc Fisher: I'm hoping that even his old Big 3 accounting employer is giving Three Dog Night a rest this year. You'd think that after watching the car company execs trade down from private jets to a hybrid drive across the continent, that other executives would also be getting a bit smarter about the appearance of excess in a time like this.


Rockville, Md.: Tell your reader from Bethesda, that the Naval Credit Union is hiring and has offices near by.

They are a sound institution and I have "banked" with them for over 20 years, now. They have good benefits for their employees.

Navy Federal

Marc Fisher: Jump on that!


Bristow, Va.: I understand the concerns about Chevy Chase Bank being swallowed by another one (I'm a depositor), but doesn't the fact that Capital One is headquartered just off the Beltway make them a Local "behemoth", rather than an out of town one, which should dampen the impact to a degree?

Marc Fisher: Capital One is indeed based in McLean, but it has bought regional banks across the country, so unlike Chevy Chase, it is really more of a national player. And Capital One is a descendant of the Richmond-based Signet Bank, so it doesn't share the local roots that Chevy Chase Bank has had through the Saul family for many generations.


Chantilly, Va.: Regarding holiday parties, I'm glad my firm has canceled its party and is donating the cost to charity.

I'm not big on forced frivolity, and company parties rank high on that scale.

Marc Fisher: What I don't get about office holiday parties is why it is that people seem emotionally attached to the concept even as they moan about what a chore it is to have to attend them? Or is it just that some folks enjoy having a chance to tout their misery to others? (I know that feeling.)


Anonymous: Metro is printing a special fare card with Obama's FACE on it. Did we do that in the past for Bush and Clinton, etc? I think not."

Well, we did for "etc":

"To celebrate Pope Benedict XVI's historic visit here, Metro is offering a commemorative one-day "Mass Pass" that will give riders unlimited access to Metro all day on April 17.

"It will feature the event logo so it will be a great keepsake of this special day," Susan Gibbs, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington, said.

Metro will sell the one-day commemorative pass for $9."

How much you want to bet that people buying that pass didn't use up the entire value, and Metro made a pile of money as a consequence?

Marc Fisher: Good point--unused fare cards aren't quite like unused gift cards, which retailers count on for pure profit. Metro doesn't save a whole lot of money if you don't use your fare card, but collectively, a whole bunch of unused cards would help the transit system's bottom line a bit.


Silver Spring, Md.: You would have to have a micro-shredder for the ballots or someone would scrounge through the trash.

Marc Fisher: Let them scrounge--the receipts wouldn't have anyone's name on them, so all you'd get for your scrounging is a piece of paper that shows that someone voted for McCain or Obama. What good does that do anyone?


Washington, D.C.: I know you hate the meters and loved the zones, but as a student at Catholic University it used to cost me about 15-10 bucks to go from Union Station to Brookland, and that varied a great deal depending on the driver, no matter how much I argued. Now? 5 bucks and change (from experience and your Web site). Love the meters.

Marc Fisher: Right--for short hauls, the meters are a clear advantage. I'm surprised your savings on that trip are that large, but then again, if you think about the back of Union Station being H Street, it's less than a full alphabet up to CUA's campus.


M Street, Washington, D.C.: Vote receipts could always be printed on edible paper. Plus, it puts a different spin on being able to swallow your own vote.

Marc Fisher: Each voting place could offer a different flavor! Collect them all!


U and 15th: Do the D.C. Police or Mayor's Office have any plans regarding the significant uptick in crime around the area of North Logan/East Dupont? On Tuesday the Sunoco was robbed and over Thanksgiving weekend, there were numerous (more than usual) armed robberies, car thefts etc...I believe WJLA-7 did a story on it.

Marc Fisher: There's been a lot of neighborhood agitation there and in Petworth about real spikes in street crime, and I'm tempted to say that you ain't seen nothing yet. As job losses mount and times get tougher, we are in for increased crime rates--that's been true in every recession in modern times. But some of that crime increase you're talking about started before the downturn really kicked in, so there may be more going on there than the economy can explain. In either event, we're told that patrols have been stepped up, but some neighbors say they aren't seeing the presence on the streets.


Taxi and fuel surcharges: so D.C. is scaling back its fuel surcharge for Taxis, do you know if the same is true for Dulles Flyer taxis?

Marc Fisher: No word on Dulles cabs yet--their fare structure is controlled separately. They're operated under contract by a single private provider, with rates set by the airports authority.


Takoma Park: The City of Takoma Park has been considering banning snow blowers, as they're noisy and harm the atmosphere. I suggest ridding the city of self-absorbed Yuppies for the same reasons.

Marc Fisher: Not logical, I know, but I'm with both sides on this one: Ban the snow blowers AND ban Takoma Park from banning more stuff.


Fort Collins, Colo.: Hi Mr. Fisher. We just moved from Northern Virginia to Colorado, where we had about 6" of snow last night. The schools are operating normally, and even the bike paths are plowed. But I really want to panic. Can I at least go to the store and buy lots of toilet paper and milk?

Marc Fisher: You could, but you wouldn't get the same joy out of it. The only point in rushing out to join the snow panic is to be with others who are scouring the same shelves for that last roll of TP and that last, old, slightly moldy package of English muffins. That's community for you.


Bowie, Md.: Actually, Marc, if 'I' was making up the conditions for a bailout; I'd require the car companies to come up with more consumer-friendly marketing and advertising policies.

If an electronics store advertised a TV for $500, and in the store it was marked $800 and you negotiate to between $6-700 depending on how many invoice sources you had access to, I'd never shop there again.

Marc Fisher: Exactly--and that's the system that has gone undiscussed in this whole bailout debate. Much of the consumer mistrust of the American carmakers stems from that sense that they're ripping us off--and much of that sense could be dissipated fairly easily and quickly simply by bringing the sales methods and business practices into the 20th century and maybe someday into the 21st.


Washington, D.C.: Marc,

While I would love to stand in line and point out all the ways the Big Three have failed, I just want to mention that in the past several years the initial quality of domestics has improved substantially. If you check out J.D. Power, etc., that factor has been creeping up (and down for some of the other manufacturers). Granted, the Big Three didn't bother advertising it, but still it's worth mentioning.

Marc Fisher: If the quality is really that much improved, you'd think that would be a message they'd be shouting to the heavens. But you're right--we don't hear that at all.


Obama farecards: I'm not an Obamiac, but I am a Metro rider, so if Metro can make money by selling farecards with Obama's mug on it that won't be used, the more power to them. Maybe they can use the money to fix the six out of eight escalators that were out of service earlier this week at Van Ness.

Marc Fisher: Why stop there? Why not collectible farecards--put local sports heros on them and play the market the way the Topps baseball cards folks used to: Put out tens of thousands of Jason Campbell cards, but only a few hundred Clinton Portis cards, etc.


Still banking loc, AL: For some of us who are credit union members, we are still banking locally. I like the fact that I get my services here from my government agency CU. I got my first mortgage here, two car loans and have banked there for 16 years since I started this job. There are still many credit unions out there and many people can qualify even if they don't work at the institution that sponsors the CU. Check out a few of the CU's Web sites and find out if you qualify.

Marc Fisher: Good advice and I've got a whole bunch of comments along those lines, but there's also this....


Arlington, Va.: Sorry Marc, five of the largest credit unions in the U.S. are technically in default.

Navy Federal is the largest CU in the world, not just the U.S. and is no. 1 on list with a bullet.

Its current survival is just slightly above Citibank!

Marc Fisher: Well, hard times everywhere, so it's going to be hard to find anything that's wholly secure right now.


Silver Spring, Md.: RE snow blowers. Since they are not really regulated the average snow blower dumps more pollution into the air in a half hour than doing laps on the Beltway in your Hummer all day long. Even in Langley they have banned burning trash in your yard witch has roughly the same impact on the environment.

Marc Fisher: I take your word for it, but for me, it's purely a noise issue. I just find it unacceptably intrusive when folks blast their leaf or snow blowers early on weekend mornings--there should at least be hours of use restrictions on the infernal things.


Why not collectible farecards: That is actually a great idea Marc, I hope metro is out there reading the chat.

Marc Fisher: Why, thank you very much.


Metro had a Nats card, too: Metro had a natioanls card for the new stadium and I don't remember any outrage over that. Except among us long-suffering hockey fans who want to know when well get a commemorative Caps SmarTrip.

Marc Fisher: Right, and they've done a whole bunch of commemorative cards over the years. But doing a Nats or Skins card is not inherently controversial. Putting the president on the card isn't exactly partisan--after all, he's the president of all the people, and so on--but doing it for one prez when you haven't done it for the others does raise an eyebrow or two.


Dumb Questions about Financial Crisis: First, where does the money go in this type of economy? I had the image of economies as being like air mattresses, where sitting on one spot pushes air into the rest of the mattress.

Second, would it be advisable for a Congressional committee to ask a panel of top investment advisers what government moves would make the market respond? It often seems like the politicians are trying to guess at what would inspire confidence in investors.

Marc Fisher: Great questions, and I'm probably not the one to answer them, but as I understand it, large chunks of value do simply disappear--it's all a matter of psychology, and it's not a closed universe.

The top advisers you're talking about are very much in the game, and they're not only on the Hill, but talking to the president and the next prez, as well as to the Fed and all the other economic institutions. This is a boom time for economists, not that they have any inside track on making things get better all that much faster.


Ban snow blowers?: I can understand leaf blowers, but snow blowers? We have maybe 3-6 snow storms a year, and the blowers clear it out within a few hours. Doing so makes things safer for everyone.

What's next, D.C. will stop plowing streets because the plows pollute too much?

Marc Fisher: I far prefer the sight, sounds and concept of the shovel.


Palmer Park, Md.: If we're going to lower the drinking age to 18 why not raise the driving age to 18 as well? The carnage caused by adding more drunks on the roads might be tempered by fewer immature drivers.

Marc Fisher: You won't get any argument from me--I think the two should be linked.


Office holiday parties: At my Behemoth Major Nonprofit, we employees have been (and are still being) asked to donate money, side-dishes, and auction-worthy objects for our several holiday parties.

Really, many of us would prefer to not have the darned parties at all.

Marc Fisher: Then be bold and propose that you just skip it this year, or that you take the money that would have gone toward all those side dishes and give it in everyone's name to one of the many charities that are really suffering this season.

Go for it, and if you do, please let me know and I'll be happy to tout your bold and excellent move for others to copy.


Arlington, Va.: And the entertainment district should include slots and table gambling. Why not go all the way Vegas in D.C.?

Tax revenues would increase dramatically and $10 dollar table minimum would keep the riff raff and WP columnists out!

Marc Fisher: Hey, the city has to compete now with slots in Maryland, right? It would give the District something to do with the convention center, which sits there with plenty of unused space so many weeks of the year....


Gaithersburg, Md.: Just a thought I had yesterday while flying in along the river. If D.C. is serious about Anacostia's revitalization, why not change the zoning on the far side of the river to allow for high-rises? We could have another Arlington/Ballston/Rosslyn-type redevelopment and perhaps some real affordable housing for federal workers (I live in Gaithersburg because I can't afford a D.C. condo or apartment on a federal attorney salary). It wouldn't interfere with the view of the dome or Washington Monument and would seriously spur development.

Marc Fisher: It's a long shot, but there's actually talk in that direction. I think it's an inevitable and welcome change, and a great way to jumpstart economic improvement without much investment of the taxpayers' money.


Snow blowers: There are people who can't shovel - either bad backs or heart conditions.

Marc Fisher: Right, and you and I should volunteer to shovel for them. I was out yesterday with my kid's classmates as they raked leaves for elderly folks in the school's neighborhood, and the residents were thrilled and the kids had a ball.


Frederick, Md.: I still have the special Metro fare card with Clinton and Gore's signature on it.

Marc Fisher: Ah, actual reporting--thank you. So there is a precedent.


Silver Spring, Md.: I think the "Big Three" seem to be oblivious to the fact that they lost a generation (or two) of buyers. In our area, I don't know many folks under 40 who even consider buying a Big Three car. They don't know or care about the quality improvements; they're buying Hondas, Toyotas and Hyundais. The gravy days of the truck and SUV craze were good for Detroit but will be viewed as the "Roaring 20s" of the auto industry.

Fortunately, millions of Americans continue to build excellent vehicles for Honda, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Hyundai, Subaru and others. Oh, but those workers aren't UAW.

Marc Fisher: My question is whether if the Big Three went under, would the Japanese companies simply expand operations here, or would American entrepreneurs try to renew the U.S. auto industry by starting over, perhaps with some of the GM plants, but with new work rules and a new approach to building and selling cars?


Washington, D.C.: Not helping the Big 2 Plus Chrysler is like throwing out the baby with the bath water. I, too, hate the sales and distribution model and would like to see them move to online sales with a few larger dealerships/distribution hubs. But we won't have to worry about that if they aren't around to make the cars in the first place. Quality have improved, and technology is in the pipeline. Give them the same help that other governments give their domestics. I'm no apologist (only 1 of 6 cars I've owned it American), but be reasonable.

Marc Fisher: Why isn't it reasonable to expect that since there's solid demand for cars going forward, that some smart entrepreneurs wouldn't step forward to build a better mousetrap?


Arlington, Va.: Snow blowers -- I'd be all for the ban; leaf blowers too. The fact we have a machine now to do every single task that used to be done by hand is part of the reason for our obesity problem. It would be nice to enjoy a nice quiet fall or winter day for a change.

Marc Fisher: Sounds right.


Rockville, Md.: Hi Mark, This morning at 12:45 a.m. my husband an I were awakened by the sound of two or more planes(?) that were really close to the ground. Looked out the window but couldn't see anything. Planes never fly so close that we can hear them. I live over Rock Creek Regional Park near Olney. Can you help identify this? I mean is this [what] I have to look forward to for the next 50 plus days in preparation for the inauguration, security flights, or is this an X-File? -- Weirded out by strange noises

Marc Fisher: Speaking of noises....

I don't know--it's a bit late in the show, but if anyone knows, email me. Thanks.


Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today--thanks for coming along. More on the blog, and back in the paper on Sunday. Come on back next week for more exciting chat action.


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