Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, February 26, 2009; 12:00 PM

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

Fisher was online Thursday, Feb. 26, at Noon ET to look at the historic decision on D.C. voting rights, Mayor Fenty's controversial trip to Dubai, and businesses that are thriving even in a beached economy.

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. It's getting to be silly time up on the Hill, where senators are tossing around a whole mess of ideas about how to bring democracy to the District of Columbia. Just minutes ago, the Senate defeated a move to give Washington back to Maryland, which would certainly solve the District's problem with having no voting representative in Congress, but isn't likely to be terribly popular with, say, Maryland. The senators also defeated an attempt to set aside the idea of voting rights for Washingtonians and instead just let us live here without paying federal income taxes (No Taxation AND No Representation.) And still to come, Republicans are going to try to gum up the voting rights debate with a measure that would erase the city's gun laws--always a popular issue among our overseers on the Hill. What will happen in these decisive days for D.C. voting rights--and then what would happen in the courts if the city does end up with a voting member of the House?

I'm just back from Richmond, where I watched the General Assembly struggle with the budget and did some reporting on the race for governor. Your thoughts are of course welcome on that campaign, and on the budget woes facing all levels of government these days.

Today's column looks at a small bright spot in the economy, visiting with shoe repair shops where many customers are showing up desperate to fix shoes that some months ago they might have tossed into the trash. Are you making an effort to keep things that you would previously have replaced with something new? What other businesses do you see thriving against the grain in this troubled time?

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

Yay to Maryland Senate President Mike Miller, who is a death penalty supporter but nonetheless has now agreed to allow Gov. Martin O'Malley's push for repeal of capital punishment to come to the full Senate for an up or down vote. Such efforts in the past have died in committee, so this is a step forward for O'Malley's big drive of this year.

Nay to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty for taking a trip to Dubai that calls into question his ethical standards. Should he have taken the trip, which was paid for by the government of the United Arab Emirates? And should he have attended the tennis tournament that some players and sponsors are boycotting because Dubai refused to allow an Israeli player into the country? My bet: Had he paid his own way, he would have felt free to do the right thing and eschew attendance at the tournament. Being beholden to your host is not a good position for anyone to be in, let alone a mayor.

Your turn starts right now....


Silver Spring, Md.: The mayor went to Dubai on that government's dime. Where is the outrage? Councilmen Fenty never would have stood for this sort of thing if Mayor Williams did it. Did Free Trip Blind Fenty To Dubai's Bias? (Raw Fisher, Feb. 24)

Marc Fisher: Quite right--in fact, Fenty said early on in his campaign for mayor that he decided to run in good part because Williams was on the road too much and seemed distracted. No one would accuse Fenty of being distracted, but legitimate questions are being raised about his independence in the wake of the Dubai trip. And it's still not entirely clear exactly what he was doing there--he has spoken about some vague economic development conversations, but then he told one D.C. resident that he was there to promote Washington's own tennis tournament.


22205: In the debate of widening 1-66, do you know what the plan is for peserving the Custis Trail and the W and OD? I've always been against widening because I love these two trails, and I feel Arlington would be losing so much of its "livablility" if they were to be destroyed. I love being able (especially on days like today) to bike from my house down to Rosslyn, or out to Shirlington, without running into much street traffic. I-66 Follies: How Many Lanes Are Enough? (Raw Fisher)

Marc Fisher: Much of the angst in Arlington over the proposed widening of I-66 is based on the assumption that any expansion of the road would require the taking of more houses and the loss of other community amenities, such as the public parkland you mention. In fact, the current plan is much more modest--just to add a lane within the existing right-of-way by connecting some of the on and off ramp lanes that now end abruptly.

Gov. Tim Kaine told Post reporters and editors in Richmond last night that he sees little or no prospect of any larger widening project moving forward.

_______________________ In Cobbler's Shops, Tough Times Are Mending a Moribund Industry (Post, Feb. 26)


NW, D.C.: My interests in DC voting my be selfish, but the proposed amendments totally reflect a body of people, so-called leaders, that have no clue with the people they represent. Some of these amendments, like ceding D.C. back to Maryland are really offensive. I love my country, but as long as these type of clowns are impacting our future I am really feeling hopeless for all the challenges our nation faces.

Marc Fisher: Wouldn't it be interesting if some of those proposals were actually serious? If there were really a serious attempt to turn the District into a tax-free zone--this goes back to Jack Kemp's push for empowerment zones a couple of decades ago--would some Washingtonians trade the prospect of voting rights for a big tax break? Of course, there's no justification for forcing such a choice--a tax-free zone could be rationalized even if Washington voters did have a voice. But what we're seeing this week on the Hill is more of a game than a serious effort to find a solution for the District's curiously undemocratic status.


Washington, D.C.: Marc, where does the D.C. Council stand in implementing the Second Amendment case which D.C. lost? The last I heard, the Council seemed to be dragging its feet on passing implementing regulations and had already been sued by the winning plaintiffs on that basis. Can you update us? Thanks.

Marc Fisher: The congressional move to stomp on the District's gun laws--the restrictions that the D.C. Council passed after last year's Supreme Court decision ending the gun ban--failed, and so the city's new regulatory regimen is proceeding. I don't have the number in front of me, but the number of requests for gun permits has been strikingly low so far, perhaps in good part because the mechanisms for obtaining a gun legally in the city remain few and poorly known.


Washington, D.C.: The disappointment of the week: mayor Fenty attending the discriminatory tennis tournament in the UAE. The international outrage was appropriate for the decision to block the Israeli tennis star from the tournament. His attendance passively condones discrimination.

Marc Fisher: I agree, and it's odd that Fenty has not felt compelled to speak more openly about his decision and the message that it sends. This is a mayor who was elected in good measure on his promises of openness and ethical behavior; he ought to be upfront about why he went and why he didn't do as some players and corporate sponsors did, and as the Tennis Channel and the Women's Tennis Association have in sending a clear message of disapproval to the Dubai government.


Washington, D.C.: We've been giving the mayor a hard time about going to the Dubai tennis tournament. What about Venus William (the eventual) winner for playing? I believe her father was always complaining of discrimination in the tennis world when his daughters were coming up the ranks.

Marc Fisher: Most players went ahead and played; I agree that they ought to have followed Andy Roddick's lead and bailed out, but many athletes argue that they ought not let politics interfere with their sport. That strikes me as a weak argument for people whose livelihood depends to a great extent on their personal reputations and images among fans, but it is a common stance.


Tysons Corner, Va.: What's up with the Chandra Levy investigation? There was supposed to be an imminent arrest in the case earlier this week, and I believe a press conference was called for two or three days ago but was suddenly canceled. I have seen nothing since then in the Post online. What is going on here? Do the police really have new evidence in the case, and just need more time to finalize it? Do you know if there is a problem with the validity of the evidence or just a delay in announcing the arrest?

Marc Fisher: Our reporters who've been working the Levy story for years, Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham, have reported that the arrest was supposed to have been imminent, as you say, but the only reasons I've heard posited for the delay are the mayor's problems with the controversy over his Dubai trip, and the possibility that there is a holdup in obtaining the necessary warrant and other paperwork to go ahead with the arrest.


20020: Isn't it illegal for government employees to take gifts of $50 or more. I used to work for the federal government and our ethics office often reminded us of those requirements. So how can Fenty accept a personal trip to Dubai, because he always wanted to go?

Marc Fisher: The city's ethics officials concluded that it was fine for Fenty to accept the trip for himself and his family because it was a personal trip--mostly a vacation, not an official city visit.


would some Washingtonians trade the prospect of voting rights for a big tax break?: Many would say yes without thinking about it but they would not be considering the real impact if that ever happened. D.C. would become a place for not just rich people making a few hundred grand a year, it would be a haven for millionaires. Why? Because the real estate market would just absolutely explode. Already expensive D.C. real estate would just get silly, and Virginia and Maryland would be flooded with anyone and everyone in the area making less than 500 grand a year or whatever. Bad bad bad bad idea unless you're worth a few mill.

Marc Fisher: That would be gentrification on speed, although presumably such a plan would have to include some sort of safeguards against the wholesale removal of residents that your scenario implies. The fact that none of this has been thought out or discussed only goes to show just how cynical the proposal really is--it's meant only to derail the D.C. voting rights bill, not as a true alternative.


Ceding D.C. to Maryland...: This Southwester says no. Washingtonians drive badly enough as it is...slap on some Maryland plates, and we'll be completely useless.

Marc Fisher: So your driving habits and style are determined by the identity of the state on your license plate? Hmmm, anyone buying that one?


NW D.C.: I drove by what looked like a little protest on Wisconsin Ave. yesterday morning, near where the old Tenley Library used to be. I assume, based on the signs, that they want the library rebuilt, but I'm confused because I thought that was already going to happen. So what's up?

Marc Fisher: I was out of town, down in Richmond, so I missed it, but I saw a press release from a neighborhood group opposed to the mayor's plan for residential and retail development on that public library site, announcing their protest. The rebuilding of the Tenleytown library remains on hold while Fenty says he will soon have new details of a public-private partnership that would put a library, housing and other economic activity on that busy corner across from a Metro station. A small group of neighborhood activists, on the other hand, is pushing for the small library to be built on that corner, without additional development. And the D.C. Public Library board, which is independent of the mayor, says it will charge ahead with building that library, despite the mayor's objections.


Alexandria, Va.: I was very pleased with the cobbler article today. Our society has embraced a thow-away mentality, which has just got to stop. But why do you think this has happened? Have people just forgot that craftsmen existed who can fix things, or is their some primal gratification that comes with new things?

Repairing shoes (or tailoring clothes, or fixing luggage, etc.) is completely sensible, particularly considering the time and cost involved in finding a new pair and breaking them in properly.

(Although admittedly, I've discovered over the years that men and women approach shoe buying differently. While I am looking for something that will last decades, through multiple soles, frequent polishing, and the occasional total refurbishment, she is looking for something to wear with the new outfit.) In Cobbler's Shops, Tough Times Are Mending a Moribund Industry (Post, Feb. 26)

Marc Fisher: Thanks very much--two other factors will determine whether we really do move back toward a mindset in which repairing and restoring goods takes precedence over just running out to replace with something new: 1) Will we return to an economy in which people are willing to pay higher prices for higher quality goods? The cobblers I visited with say there's little they can do to repair the cheap, poorly-glued shoes that are imported from China and Mexico so that they can be sold at rock-bottom prices. And 2) will cobblers and their equivalents in other fields still exist a few years down the road? Every single cobbler I met was an immigrant getting up there in years, and every single one said there are few, if any, such craftsmen coming up behind them. Are these lost arts?


Downscaling: Hi Marc,

My husband will be losing his job in 6 months, but I am still planning a family vacation to Cozumel, Mexico for spring break. We can pay for it and it is much needed, plus we are definitely economizing elsewhere. We have an emergency fund, my husband will get severence. So $4,000 isn't going to break us. But some have made snide remarks that international travel is unpatriotic given the recession. Apparently, we should be spring breaking in Daytona instead. What say you?

Marc Fisher: I don't know that it's unpatriotic, but it may be less than entirely safe--there are a bunch of reports in the last couple of days about gun battles among drug cartels and other thugs in Mexico that are leading U.S. authorities to warn against Spring Break trips to that country.

And the severe downturn in the U.S. hospitality industry means there are excellent deals to be had within our borders. So my advice, since you're asking, is to take that trip here at home. But of course a foreign trip can help the U.S. economy too, as the airlines would be quick to remind us.


McLean, Va.: Hi Marc -- A media question, if you will. This morning on Channel 4 they did a story about the warnings not to travel to Mexico because of all the drug violence. The reporter was doing a live stand-up from National Airport. Having the reporter there added ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to the story. Why on earth do they do stupid things like that? The only thing they accomplished was wasting gas and the money it cost getting from Nebraska Ave. to National. I thought TV stations were strapped for money.

Marc Fisher: Speaking of travel to Mexico....

What you saw was standard operating procedure for TV news--the picture drives the story, and so reporters are trained to find some place that offers a picture that immediately places the story in the viewers' minds. I happen to live a couple of blocks from the Channel 5 Fox studios, and so our street is often used for the reporters' stand-ups during the evening newscasts. It might be a weather story, a crime story, or even something wholly unrelated to the neighborhood where the reporter is standing, but standing in front of some houses and trees apparently gives the audience the sense that the reporter is out on the street, actively gathering the news, rather than sitting on his duff back at the office. It's pure show biz, especially since the reporter often just leaves the office to do the outdoor stand-up, and then heads right back indoors.


Lanes on 66: It's understandable that people don't want more lanes on 66 because the general public typically has no solid clue about local politics and issues. If they understood it would reduce even their commute times and rid some of their streets of through drivers avoiding 66, well they might have a different tone. But again, that means thinking about an issue for more than 10 seconds it takes to digest a headline, something the general public isn't too big on doing.

Marc Fisher: Your argument would certainly be persuasive to some Fairfax residents who have to sit through the 66 clot in Arlington every day, but then turn around and look at it from the perspective of Arlingtonians, who fear that new road construction would take away dozens, if not hundreds, of houses, many more trees, and a good chunk of those neighborhoods' sense of community. Some of the opposition to widening is very much driven by people who are very well informed on local issues.


Annandale, Va.: I'm afraid I don't understand the logic of eliminating the bottleneck at I-66 and the Beltway by pushing it into Rosslyn, which is (in my mind) what adding another lane inside the Beltway will do. A bottleneck in Fairfax County can't compete with the bottleneck that already exists at the Key and Roosevelt bridges. I don't think it's ever going to be possible to build enough highway capacity as quickly as automakers can turn out cars and trucks.

Marc Fisher: Quite true--you cannot build your way out of congestion, and there's reasonably good evidence that new lanes can actually make traffic worse (induced traffic, it's called). But the bottleneck at the Potomac crossing is not necessarily a showstopper; the lanes on the TR bridge are malleable. In fact, they are changed twice a day, every day, to provide an extra lane for the rush hour commuters heading in the dominant direction. This is one reason why the traffic going against the grain is so miserably bad on 66.


Fairfax, Va.: One of the arguments made in favor of the current D.C. voting right legislation is that the District is already treated as a state under many current federal programs and laws. For example, in Title 23 (Highways), the term "state" is defined as "any of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico." By this definition, D.C. and PR would seem to be on equal footing, at least regarding this line of reasoning.

Marc Fisher: Except that the District is an original and organic part of the United States, and its citizens have always had to pay taxes and serve in the military and so on, whereas Puerto Rico's relationship with this country is much more tenuous and ambivalent, as repeated votes there have proven.


Nat'l Archives: So in your opinion was the 23rd Amendment unnecessary? Congress could have just said, "sure, D.C. can have electors!" Or is that somehow different, electors require an amendment but representatives don't?

Marc Fisher: The latter. Just as Congress has regularly changed the number of members of the House of Representatives to account for population growth, it could do so in this case to fix the D.C. voting situation.

Will there be a constitutional challenge of such a move? Most likely, yes, and is it possible that courts will decide Congress had no such authority? Also possible. But if the intent of Congress matters, and the courts have consistently said that it does, then it is possible for judges to decide that that is sufficient, especially given the myriad other ways in which the Constitution's references to "the several States" have nonetheless been interpreted to include the District.


D.C.: Hiya Marc, How many of the sitting senators reside in the District when they are not back home with their constituents? I have the (right or not) impression that they live insulated from the District and the good and bad it has to offer. I think if they had more of a connection to it as their adopted home, they would be more likely to champion rights for the other residents. What are the primary reasons they offer for opposing voting rights? I do not have the impression that many of them have scholarly "Constitutional" reasons for their opposition.

Marc Fisher: Actually, a great many of them do live in Washington, and even more potentially helpful for the District's cause, a fair number of senators stay here after their tenure on the Hill has come to an end. But do they think of themselves as Washingtonians? No, and neither do they vote here, even after many years as residents. Nor does adopting this as a second home mean that they will come to support D.C. voting rights--witness Max Baucus, one of only two Democratic senators to oppose the vote for the District. He's lived in Georgetown for many years and is active in community issues there, yet maintains that a House vote for the District is unconstitutional.

Some members of Congress do have serious and legitimate constitutional concerns. Some are playing partisan games. And some are just being ornery or playing to anti-Washington sentiment back home; witness the persistent but ludicrous argument from some members of Congress that the people of Washington have nothing to bellyache about because they have the option of moving elsewhere if they're really all that hopped up about voting.


Georgetown: They almost ceded me to Maryland?!

This is the first I've heard of this. What was the vote, and did either of the Md. senators support it?

I'd be carrying myself back to old Virginny within weeks.

(And yes mostly because of Md. drivers -- out of every 10 accidents/near misses, seven are from cars with Md. plates, and the remaining three divided between D.C., Va. and out of the area.)

Marc Fisher: The vote was 67-30 with the retrocession idea on the losing side, and the vote took place about two hours ago. Neither Maryland senator supported taking the District into their loving arms.


Annandale, Va.: I do think that Washington should go back to Maryland to get full representation in Congress.

WDC is a city and it could remain such.

Trying to take on the functions of city and state now are terribly inefficient.

I never really thought about this in regard to WDC until recently but felt this way when NYC considered becoming a state.

To me, the only way D.C. can get a vote in the HOR and two senators is a constitutional amendment.

Marc Fisher: If all of those who say that the only way to get this done is through amendment then went out and supported such an amendment, they, combined with those who are now pushing for a House seat by legislative means, could easily form the needed majority. Would such an amendment then win approval from the states, as the Constitution requires? Hard to say, but the idea would likely win more support at the state level today than at any time since the 1970s, the last time it got this far.


Tax-Free Zone: I'd rather have a voice in Congress -- well, actually, I'd rather have D.C. no longer be Congress's little fiefdom -- but failing that, yes, thanks, I'll take zero income tax. I'd love it if that was a serious proposal. And I'm a big liberal who believes in taxes. (Although then I suppose all kinds of weird rich people would move in and I'd have to move to the suburbs. Sigh.)

Marc Fisher: But you'd get a bundle for your house or apartment, if you're an owner.


PG resident!: Why no outrage with proposed movement of the D.C. United to PG county? The state of Maryland no more needs to build this stadium as D.C. It should not be a PG priority, nor a state priority. These investments are boondoggles, and fleece our tax dollars.

Marc Fisher: Not all sports facilities are boondoggles for governments; the D.C. government is thrilled beyond compare with the investment it made in the downtown sports arena that was at least partly responsible for the transformation of the East End into a bustling area of retail, residential and office development, a big boost for the city's tax base.

But you're right that there is little prospect of that happening from the building of a soccer stadium, mainly because the facility would be used so few times each year. Just like NFL stadiums, which tend to be islands unto themselves, soccer stadiums have no track record of attracting other development and therefore have no claim on public financing.


Arlington, Va.: Nay to the Nationals for choosing short term "victory" over long term fan base building by excluding the tickets for the Red Sox series from the individual game sales that start on Tuesday. I have been in a season ticket plan every year until this one, but decided to go to buying individual games for flexibility and economics. Now I won't be able to buy tickets to that series until April, by which time all the tickets will likely be gone.

I do not want one of there WE CHOOSE IT partial plans, give me the flexibility to pick games and I'd do it. I was going to buy a lot of individual games, but now I'm so angry I'm not sure if I will or not.

But they will probably sell some more partial plans because of this. Yea. The long term damage will be harder to see.

Marc Fisher: I don't like the whole notion of premium games in any sport, but sadly, that battle has been fought and lost, and variable pricing is not only here, it's getting more and more sophisticated and complicated. So in that context, it makes sense that teams would try to leverage their occasional visits from top-drawing opponents into a big financial boost, and even more important, into an incentive for fans to buy more tickets to games that are not at the top of anyone's list.

Excluding Red Sox games from all packages except those of season ticket holders seems heavy handed, and it is, but if you look at the wild premiums that some richer teams are charging for games against their top opponents, the Nationals are, for now at least, letting us off easy.


Hell's Kitchen, NYC: I live in NYC, walk everywhere I can and use cobblers all the time. I go to a couple (and yes, they always seem to be immigrants -- many Greek -- who are getting up there) and they recognize me. There are several in any neighborhood -- are they really that rare in the D.C. area? I suppose it's a reflection of pedestrian vs. car culture, but I also despise waste -- if I buy a pair of expensive shoes I am darn well going to try to make them last. This attitude predates the current recession, BTW!

Marc Fisher: Indeed, there are fewer such establishments in Washington than in New York, largely because the D.C. area has a much less rich heritage of immigration, and most of the craftsmen in such fields have brought those skills here as their tools for achieving the American dream. But such businesses do indeed exist here and not just in shoe repair--they're perfectly positioned to take advantage of what looks like a real shift in buying and spending habits.


D.C.: My wife would never have let me take an international trip and leave a new baby behind. Especially, a nursing baby. People were conservative about travel. In my day, a lot of parents refused to fly on the same planes during family trips so that there'd be a survivor if the plane crashed.

I don't mean to condemn, but certainly that is a detail which generated some controversy at the breakfast table...

Marc Fisher: Good point--I've heard a lot of chatter about that as well, mainly from mothers who could not imagine leaving a newborn for a week so early in life. Different strokes, of course, but it's certainly not something I would ever have done, mostly because the anxiety would have meant that none of us would enjoy the trip.


NW, D.C.: How about returning Arlington back to the District proper? That part never comes up when folks talk about being true to the Constitution. Let's go back to the original plan for D.C. too.

Marc Fisher: Go back to the original shape, ditch the diamond, and all that? I like the idea, but at this point, why would Virginia give up the territory (unless you had a Republican resurgence and the GOP saw excising Arlington as a way to bolster its political power)? And I don't think the District would necessarily embrace the idea either--just look at the popular agitation over the decline in the proportion of D.C. voters who are black.


Bethesda, Md.: At the risk of being unpopular with politicians from both Maryland and Virginia, the solution to D.C.'s representation problem is to take D.C. and the surrounding counties and create a new state. That not only gives D.C. representation, but frees Montgomery and PG and Fairfax and Alexandria and Arlington from the neglect of Annapolis and Richmond.

Marc Fisher: Urban areas in many states have dreamed of seceding and creating their own states for many decades, but it's never been done, and isn't likely to happen, in good part because those urban areas tend to be the economic engines of states that, like Virginia, would be just another Mississippi if it weren't for the jobs and taxes generated by a northern Virginia.


Obama Capping Fed Salaries: Ummm...I know we're in an economic crisis, but we're already underpaid (comparable to those left employed in what remains of the private sector)...and I can't afford to live in D.C. proper on a federal salary. It will play well, but it really isn't "stimulating" me. Anyone else expressing sour grapes?

Marc Fisher: The problem in this region is that federal workers, whose pay scales tend to be modest, are living in the most expensive metropolitan area in the country, and that's not a situation that's likely to reach any comfortable balance anytime soon.


Na,TS: Austin Kearns struck out twice and left 5 men on base, in two at-bats. Back to his old tricks.

Seriously, should he get more than 25 at-bats this year? If he does, I'm the first one signing the 'Fire Acta' petition.

Marc Fisher: You would think that Kearns would be the odd man out in the Nats' current excess of strong outfielders. But his salary is such that he'd be very difficult to trade, so his fate may well be to ride the bench. At least the team ought not have to play him just to have a body out there this season.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc -- I see that D.C. now allows residents to make appointments for auto inspections. I've lived here for 30 years; long enough to remember all too well the bad old days. But frankly, since the Williams administration I've found the inspection process greatly improved. I just go in the middle of the month, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the morning and I breeze right through. So my question is, have you or any of the chatters had any experience with the appointment system? I can see getting there and having all the autos with appointments lined up at one bay while the others sit empty. Is making an appointment really worth it?

Marc Fisher: I've used the appointments system and it's a miracle--you drive up and are immediately ushered right past the entire queue of cars. It's a wonderful thing and it's amazing that more folks don't use it. It's totally simple and free.


Woodbridge, Va.: I think ExxonMobil, which keeps making record profits, should give some of it to General Motors, which keeps making record losses. Sigh.

Marc Fisher: I'm sure they'd be happy to share.


Transit Subsidy: I would like to say "Praise Jesus!" to Congress for the transit subsidy increase but someone forgot to include language in the ARRA to direct federal agencies to increase the subsidy for federal employees. I heard we're getting $5 more in Smartbenefits next month. I spend $100 out of pocket commuting from northern MoCo. And even worse, we contract out and the contractor had no clue what the policy was for pre-tax deductions. So we contract out poorly.

Almost a good job Congress, almost.

Marc Fisher: Probably still fixable, no?


U Street: I buy more expensive shoes and take Metro (which is horrible on heels) so use a cobbler -- George's -- all the time. I usually get my heels retipped and a polish. The thing is I love the process -- it's very old world, but also hugely economical as I can't afford to replace my shoes all the time AND buy ones that are comfortable to walk in all day.

Marc Fisher: And they're wonderful people who work like dogs but still manage to take time out to talk to and get to know customers. I get the sense there and at some of the other shops I visited that people come in part just to hang out and chat--which is how a good business should want it to be.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm glad the Obamas chose a Portuguese Water Dog. They are great dogs that don't shed and the Obamas will not be supporting the "designer dog" BS of the past few years by getting a "doodle" variation. As long as they get a rescue dog and don't support breeders they'll get this one totally right.

Marc Fisher: I know nothing of dogs, but is there a debate over whether he should pick a domestic or foreign brand of dog?


Arlington, Va.: I have been puzzled for years as to why people are against D.C. having representation. It is not as though all federal employees (or indeed federal agencies) are in the city anymore and arguments about population or political leanings or crooked politicians can't hold water since there are states with lower populations, political leanings and, indeed, crooked politicians. So what is the anti sentiment? The congressmen like to meddle too much?

Marc Fisher: Part of it is instinctive meddling, part is that this issue gets lumped into free-floating anti-Washington sentiment, part is that it's a complicated constitutional question and therefore is over the head of many members of Congress, part is that the issue was long a coded method for taking a stand against black people, part is a partisan belief that supporting D.C. voting rights is a purely Democratic issue, and part (from the other side) is that too many Dems take the black vote for granted and therefore saw no reason to act aggressively on this issue.


Washington, D.C.: I posted this comment on the traffic chat, and was hoping to do so on the Metro chat, but I don't think it's happening this week.

There's a bad situation with the valet service at Buca di Beppo on Connecticut ave near Florida Avenue. It often infringes upon the bus stop, forcing buses to either stop in the middle lane of Connecticut Avenue or back up into the slip lane of Florida Avenue. In either case, it is a dangerous situation for riders wishing to board. What can be done? I have sent an e-mail to Metro. No response.

Marc Fisher: Try working through the local advisory neighborhood commission and through the D.C. transportation department; also the council member for that ward.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Marc --

I'm all for development on top of a new Tenleytown library, but given that the Babe's Billiards development went bust due to the bad economy, what's the likelihood anyone is going to invest the bucks to finance anything more than the library?

Marc Fisher: Right now? Slim. Eventually, strong. It's right on top of a Metro station--and to do anything but develop such sites to the fullest possible extent is to waste the billions that it cost to build the Metro system.


Vienna, Va.: Not enough dialog in the debate over widening 66 includes the problems faced by commuters traveling against the typical rush to and from D.C. Anyone trying to get into Arlington in the afternoon from Fairfax or Tysons knows what I mean. Traffic can back up for miles. The big issue is two lanes of the Toll Road merging with two lanes of 66 to become two lanes. A third lane in each direction all the way to Fairfax Drive would drastically help traffic in both directions at all hours. The current plan has spot improvements that seem to me to not get to any of the issues that cause traffic on 66 because everyone is tiptoeing around Arlington officials because of their idiotic refusal to consider the rest of the region in their plans. Most Arlington residents were not even living here when the road was originally built.

Marc Fisher: True, but they grew up living with the promise that the federal government made to Arlington when 66 was built, and that Coleman Decision remains on the books and is still taken very seriously by many in that part of the world.


Arlington, Va.: In general I agree that athletes and politics shouldn't mix - if the boycott was about general human rights issues then I'd disagree with it.

But in this case, the tournament itself is the focus of discrimination, and I think refusing to attend would be equivalent to someone refusing to play golf at a whites-only club.

Marc Fisher: Good point--thanks.


Marc Fisher: I'm afraid we're over our allotted time and have to close shop for today. Thanks for coming along and please come on back next week...More on the blog every day and in the paper again on Sunday. And if you do get that vote, vote early and often...


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