With Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2002; Noon, EST
Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion of the latest news and a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.
In his weekly show, Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control
over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Marc Fisher: Today's Potomac Confidential has already been given a 5.7 by the Polish judge. Funny how they can do that even in advance.
But now we must live up to his prescient judgment. Lots to play with today: Today's column looks at the mess in Prince George's County, Tuesday's was a loving salute to the legislators in Richmond and their passion for infusing religion in the public schools, and Saturday's looked at the not-so-secret plans to stage the Olympics here in our area in 2012.
Let's hear what's on your minds--campaign finance, Enron, the war, those wacky Olympic judges, the cameras the District is using to watch us on the streets, the schools mess in PG, the police mess in PG.....
In all the fuss about the withdrawal of the Reynolds "gift of $38 million" to the Smithsonian, how many times have the true terms of the deal been stated? This was not a lump sum, but to be paid in over a 40-year period, $12 million of the gift was to be passed on as awards to "high achievers," and less than $2 million has actually been received by the museum. I think that selling 10,000 square feet of the national museum to any private individual for their own purpose, whatever it may be, is a big mistake. Our national museums are free and open to all and in addition to being a great resource they are a symbol of the democracy we claim to love and support.
Oh yes, and another thing: The Canadians got so obviously hosed in the figure skating pairs Monday night I couldn't believe it!
Marc Fisher: The more you learn about the Reynolds gift--or, for that matter, any of the big-ticket donations to the Smithsonian that require the museums to do what some fatcat wants them to do--the more you must despair for the future of one of the world's most spectacular cultural resources. Take a walk through the American History museum and you'll be attacked by ads and by exhibits masquerading as ads. We all appreciate the free admission to the Smithsonian buildings, but if it takes an admission fee to give the institution its spine back, then bring it on.
Here's my take on the skating scandal. While everyone is rightly complaining that the decision is a travesty, I don't see anyone suggesting any way to fix the system.
Although my first instinct is to regard the new X-sports as trash sports, I watched a bit of the snowboard "halfpipe" competition and saw that there, each judge is assigned one element. You're still relying on human beings to make judgements, but to me this removes some of the subjectivity from and adds some transparency to the process.
Marc Fisher: That does seem an excellent way to split up the judging. There's still room for favoritism with that system, but it does get diluted somewhat. Many sports writers are only too eager to use this to declare skating a non-sport. But it's the top draw of the Winter Games and it is a sport (though ice dancing clearly is not.) An alternative solution is to turn to judges from countries not involved in the Games--Syria and Bhutan, for example. The judging might not be high-quality, but it would be less biased.
The French judge surrendering under the slightest pressure? Go figure. Really, who'da thunk it?
Marc Fisher: Next, the IOC will bring in Inspector Clouseau.
I've heard some try to explain why we don't need/want the Olympics here in the "Chesapeake Region".
As for the site at D.C. General, I think it's an ideal location for sports in the D.C. area -- convenient to both states, right on the Metro, etc.
Marc Fisher: I like the DC General site for Olympic venue, too, but I wish the city would just be more honest about such deals. It's a perfectly legitimate use of that site, so why not just embrace it publicly and be done with all the chatter about putting other, more socially minded facilities there?
Marc, I find it absurd that the two Middle Eastern men who were arrested near the Pentagon this week garnered so much media attention. I know we have to be diligent -- that's why the FBI/CIA/local enforcement authorities are on alert. But why is the media puffing up all these "alleged" stories that seem to fizzle out?
Marc Fisher: There's been a remarkable difference in how that story's been treated--it's led the news on Fox5 and Ch. 7 for several nights running. The Post has been quite circumspect, putting the story deep inside, with very careful language. The facts are enticing--guys who were clearly up to no good found near the Pentagon, and they turn out to be Middle Eastern, and have fake IDs and a passport from the Emirates. All very juicy. But nothing more--yet. So it's fair to be cautious, but it's also necessary to report what we know. Maybe these are just run of the mill crooks, looking for some poor victim to tow away. Or maybe they're sleeper agents.
great article this morning. But, do you think maybe you cut a little too close to the bone? Sure, there are valid problems that you enumerate, but, in reality it's really not at all that funny.
Those are very, very serious issues that need to be addressed. out of the three, I feel the least sorry for those pathetic members of the school board. You hit them right between the eyes.
Marc Fisher: Thanks--well, sure, the situations in the police dept and school system are very serious, but that doesn't mean we can't poke fun to make a point. And certainly the behavior of the school board is worthy of ridicule.
Others, however, disagree.....
Have a heart! There must be something good to say about officials in P.G. county, especially on Valentine's day? C'mon, show your heartfelt appreciation for something, anything? You can do it! Can't you?
Marc Fisher: Um, yes, there is something to appreciate about officialdom in Prince George's. They give those of us who make our living in the news business a daily bonanza, and we are grateful to them. I will rush out after lunch to buy them a rose.
Mr. Fisher, first of all, great column today. You forgot to mention, that if you are in any way, shape , form or fashion resemble a church or religious group, we will sell you any amount of land you desire in PG County without taking into effect the erosion of our own tax base which probably contributes to a myriad of other problems. Some of the areas possibly suitable for quality retail instead boast extremely large worship centers.
Marc Fisher: Thanks--good point. Actually, the proliferation of churches on prime real estate in the county got to be such a big problem that even the county pols who rely heavily on support from those churches have finally gotten tough about giving up land for megachurches.
Delightful column today, and I'm not a huge fan of your writing. But today you found the perfect mix of disgust and sarcasm for a gem. Thanks.
Marc Fisher: Thanks very much.
Has the Post followed up on the teen who tore down the anti-Semitic sign at the Kensington Santa rally? Did anyone try to raise money for his legal fees? I never did understand how some people saw the Santa ban as a Jewish issue.
Also, the Smithsonian will be better off in the long run without Wayne and Catherine Reynolds' money. They obviously didn't grasp that the Smithsonian's mission is education, not rah-rah boosterism. (My suggested title for the exhibit they wanted? "Chicken Soup for the American Soul.")
Love your columns, Marc.
Marc Fisher: I haven't heard anything more on that incident. Anyone?
On the Smithsonian, yes, they will be better off, even if the short-term news is depressing (45 layoffs, see today's Style section.) A smaller, leaner institution that stays true to its mission is infinitely preferable to a corporate theme park that distorts history to attract big bucks from rich folk who want only a memorial to themselves. The new sign out in front of the American History museum, now renamed for some rich bozo, is a blot on the Mall and the nation.
On Tuesday night, my children were scheduled to have a long-awaited sleepover with their favorite aunt who lives downtown. After hearing about the terrorism warning, I wondered whether I should send them, but then brushed the fear aside. Then my husband had the same irrational fear, and we again brushed it aside. Still, the irrational thoughts were out there and in the end, the children stayed home. I feel foolish, but then again, parents have to protect their children. How are we supposed to deal with these terrorism warnings?
Marc Fisher: I ignore them, and I have yet to hear a good argument for doing anything else. They are so vague as to be meaningless. They cannot have any purpose other than to protect the posteriors of the officials who make the pronouncements. Every police chief I've heard on this question says that 1) his forces are already on highest alert, and 2) he has no clue what he should be on the lookout for. The only warnings worth paying attention to would be those that cite a specific place and time, and we haven't had one of those yet.
The Other Downtown DC:
I JUST DON'T CARE ABOUT FIGURE SKATING!!!
Is there something wrong with me?
Marc Fisher: You are not qualified to watch network television. Go read a book.
Chris Core has been on WMAL in the afternoon drive time for more than 25 years. He just got dumped to be part of a threesome in the morning so the station could broadcast a third hour of the syndicated Sean Hannity, giving us six straight hours of right wing talk, with no local interest. While it is a shame that this happened, I find it amazing that the Post, which no longer has a radio columnist, didn't even bother to mention it while every sneeze on TV is intensely covered. Is there going to be any local interest radio talk in this area?
Marc Fisher: I hadn't heard that about Chris, and it's very sad to hear. He was the last commercial radio talk host in the Washington area who devotes himself to local issues; even Joe Madison on WOL has now shifted largely to national questions, since his show is now simulcast on XM Satellite Radio. Hannity is a blowhard, another TV pundit who basically phones in his radio show.
I'm also very sad about the Post's decision to drop the radio column. As former radio columnist, I have a deep interest in that and I think it's wrong to ignore the one medium with which most people spend the most time.
Marc, I have to say sometimes I think you can be a little harsh on goings-on here in Virginia, but at others, it seems we do all we can to deserve it! Your column on the "Richmond Follies" this week was just dead-on. It seems that the last few years some of our esteemed representatives doing "the people's business" downstate are more concerned with flaunting their recently-found majority than fixing our problems. Maybe they don't realize that if they're aren't careful, there might not be any teachers (or classrooms) left to browbeat students with the Ten Commandments or the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Again, nice work. I don't think enough people here in Northern Virginia know what goes on down there, and hopfully your column with week will help change that. Thanks.
Marc Fisher: Thanks--the most curious thing about that 10 Commandments legislation is that it requires schools to teach kids the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which was a Union song!
I Love Virginia:
Marc, don't you think your column on Virginia's legislative decisions will only reinforce the impression that city-boys like you think you have all the right answers for people in neighboring states?
These legislators, I should remind you, were elected. If the people of their district are unhappy with their performance, they can elect someone else, but I think you come off as shocked -- schocked! -- that they're not doing more to benefit the area of the state you have to travel: Northern Virginia.
That's not most of the legislators' problem. Their constituents probably elected them to institute the Ten Commandments, etc., on school walls. I'd venture a bet that those are the very issues those legislators campaigned on!
Is the fiscal situation gloomy in Virginia? Yeah, it looks troubling. But nothing's more troubling than someone from out of the state weighing forth on the "real" problems of another state, those problems that can only be remedied, supposedly, by one thing: money.
Isn't that the underlying point? You think legislators oughta vote on nothing other than funds for roads and schools. Leave the "moral" issues alone, right? Because those have no real effect on anyone.
Virginians don't see things in such a cut-and-dried way. At least not most Virginians.
Marc Fisher: Sure, people in the Washington area have a different sensibility and political agenda than do good old boys in the parts of Virginia that are hours away from here. But in my travels, I have not met many folks even in rural Virginia who are pining for their legislators to spend their time on feel-good morality issues, on sloganeering initiatives such as the In God We Trust and 10 Commandments measures this year, or the mandatory moment of silence last year.
The north-south split in Virginia is deep and abiding, but there are issues on which the state could find common ground--roads, schools and economic development among them.
I'll admit Virginia appears to have problems. I would think that, in order to solve its fiscal ills, a tax increase is in order. After all, they are pretty low compared to many other places. But when Fred Hiatt wrote Monday that "there is another way, and it does not involve turning Virginia into a monstrous high-tax state that would drive business away," I get angry. Why is it socially acceptable, indeed, why is it even desirable from a corporate perspective, for a company to say: "I'm going to leave this place, where schools are good, where they take care of people, where there is clean air and water, and move to the South, where environmental laws are weak, unions are strongly discouraged, taxes are low. Of course, low taxes hurt the quality of public education, but that doesn't bother me, because I'll be sending my kids to private schools." It seems as though Mr. Hiatt, and many others, buy into this crapola. Yet you rarely hear anyone speak up about this mindset!
Marc Fisher: I don't think that is what Fred was saying. To my reading, he was saying that Virginia finally needs to face up to the fact that it is a big state with large metro areas that have classic urban problems of congestion, pollution, unemployment and poorly funded schools. Virginia needs to raise more money to deal with those problems. Fred was simply cautioning that that does NOT require the state to become a New York or Massachusetts, with the kind of huge tax burden that drives companies away. There is a middle course, and Virginia's position at the bottom of the nation in so many service categories gives the state plenty of room to reach for the middle.
Re: Your Tuesday missive on the follies down in the Virginia Assembly.
People get the representation they deserve. It's clear that there are two Virginias, the northern Virginia of relative affluence and political moderation and the drink with your open beer can, you must be Christian bubbas down south. There are more voting bubbas than affluent/moderate northern Virginians. Them is the facts. No two ways around it.
Thanks to the failed Gilmore administration, Virginia's broke AND still has transportation problems, school problems, etc., etc. Nice record, Gov.
I'm not some lifetime Marylander, taking potshots at my crimes-against-nature-fearing, open gun carrying neighbors. I used to live in the commuter's paradise, Tysons Corner. Used to pay my taxes to the commonwealth, vote regularly, etc., etc. And in the words of the motivational speaker guy who lives in a van down by the river, "I got squat." Except for traffic that can choke the joy out of my life and frustration at the ignorance of the representatives in my state assembly.
So I moved and I'm much less frustrated. My commute is better even down the I-270 corridor. And I don't feel as though I'm contributing to the monkeys in the assembly.
The folks of northern Virginia ought to just move en masse. Leave the bubbas with absolutely no income stream, but all of the 10 commandments that they can print. Virginia belongs in the stone age and, left to their own devices, would soon be competing with West Virginia for most (you fill in the blank here).
I'm ex-Virginian and proud of it.
Marc Fisher: Moving is always an option, though given the real estate market around here, it's only an option for people with massive bank accounts.
But short of moving, there's also the political pressure option, which does work, if very slowly. The fact is that Northern Virginia's business community is now almost entirely united behind a push for more taxes; if that isn't wholesale change, I don't know what is. Will it bring about relief for local residents? Not right away, but probably in the long run.
I was interested to see you admit that "It's finally clear what the RFK/D.C.General area is slated for" in your Feb. 9 column.
It was clear to some of us a year ago. I wrote extensively and documented the land-use plans for that area, especially around the 2012 Olympics, and the National Capital Planning Commission's "Legacy" plan which envisioned high-rises, sports facilities, a boat marina, etc. where the D.C. General campus is now located.
But you labeled those of us protesting the plans of the Mayor and the Control Board as a "motley collection of hatemongers and rabble-rousers," and cited myself and my colleagues as "truly wacky Lyndon LaRouchies."
Moreover, the Washington Post never covered the real-estate land-grab around D.C. General except to feature the Mayor's denials -- which are now proven to have been lies.
Since you now acknowledge that we were right all along, don't you think you owe us -- and your readers -- an apology?
(Law Editor, Executive Intelligence Review; member of the Coalition to Save D.C. General
Marc Fisher: Not in the least. You and your gang of rabble rousers remain a destructive and cynical bunch, trying to use the legitimate concerns of people who live in the DC General area to advance your own LaRouchian agenda of destroying the credibility of government at all levels.
Yes, the city has been less than honest about its plans for using that land. But it's also the case that DC General was a disaster and needed to be either shut down or dramatically altered. And it's worth noting that none of the horrors that your group predicted--people dying in the streets, etc. after DC General's closing--have come to pass.
Truth about S.E.:
But if they said that they were clearing the site to raise a premiere Olympic-aimed venue.... wouldn't the residents be yelling about it at the top of their lungs?
As a non-D.C. resident, I understand their frustration about losing their neighborhood on the behalf of the greater good, even though I still think it needs to be done.
But Williams isn't elected by Virginians or Marylanders.
Marc Fisher: Depends on how the sale is made. The Olympic group actually has an impressive plan to build, for example, a temporary swimming facility that after the games could be easily and cheaply moved to a DC neighborhood to serve as a community pool. That sort of gesture could go a long way to assuaging community concerns.
Battle Hymn of the Republic:
Julia Ward Howe was indeed a Yankee, but the song was appropriated by both sides. This was common - "When This Cruel War is Over" had its lyrics amended from 'suit of blue' to 'suit of gray.'
Marc Fisher: Many thanks for the info.
Is there anything that we, the public, can do to protest the Smithsonian's selling out? Seeing the name "Behring Center" outside NMAH is just nauseating, and despite the withdrawal of the Reynolds' gift, I see the problem getting worse before it gets better. Aren't there any Carnegie-style philanthropists left who are willing to donate money to different causes without plastering their name all over the place? The whole thing makes me want to be become a multi-millionaire (yeah, like THAT will ever happen) just so I can donate huge amounts of money to the Smithsonian with no strings attached.
Marc Fisher: You've hit on a very interesting and depressing change in the nature of philanthropy in this country. The whole naming phenomenon, along with the incredibly greedy style of giving popularized by Bill Gates and the rest of the tech crowd, has created a quid pro quo expectation, a belief among wealthy donors that they should be able to alter the mission and activities of the group they are giving to. Sure, there are still some who give without strings attached, but too often, museums, foundations and other charities lead donors to believe that they are decision makers as well as funding sources. The charities often are the architects of their own undoing.
I am a loyal visitor to Smithsonian museums and am a 'member', whatever that means -- perhaps just that I receive the magazine.
And in said magazine recently, there was a full page fundraising appeal. The appeal cited Sept. 11 and the downturn in DC tourism as a reason that the Institution's financial situation is grim. Now, since the Museums are free, and there is no admission fee to generate revenue, it doesn't matter if 10 people enter Natural History or 10,000 people do. SO- that leads me to conclude that their gift shops generate loads of income, meaning they mark up the merchandise 300%. To my knowledge, they receive a set percentage or dollar amount from the concession contracts, so fewer people eating in the cafeterias shouldn't matter either.
My dad, who lives in the Midwest, asked me about the magazine appeal -- and you would think people who subscribe to the magazine KNOW the museums are free. Why is the Smithsonian perpetrating this fundraising campaign of misinformation??
Marc Fisher: I don't know what the markups are--the Smithsonian restaurants are very modestly priced--but yes, the number of folks buying at the gift shops and eateries indeed controls the number of layoffs that the Institution must announce. I don't see what's misleading about encouraging visitors at a time when tourism in Washington is way down.
Regarding admissions fees at the Smithsonian, why can't we do as the Europeans do? Which is to say, price discriminate among patrons based on nationality/membership in various economic and trade pacts. In Italy, if I remember correctly, Italian citizens pay the lowest fares to visit attractions, citizens of EU countries pay slightly higher rates, and the rest of the world pays full fare. Sounds about right to me.
Marc Fisher: Terrific idea. It'll never happen because someone will think it unfair or discriminatory, but it's both logical and fair. Our tax dollars pay for the Smithsonian, so it's reasonable to give us a break on admission and milk the foreigners for all they're worth. They'll still think it's a bargain even at $15 a head.
I noticed that you had written a piece back in 1998 on the sudden candidacy of Beverly J. Wilbourn, a lawyer that was pick by a few groups (the Post among them) to defeat Phil Mendelson in the City Council race. Do you have any comments on her chances in this year's race, given that she has announced her candidacy again?
Marc Fisher: Wilbourn is the kind of candidate who can only happen in the District, where political activism is limited to a small group of people and someone who has no real experience in city affairs can come along and, with the backing of a few business folks, pretend to be something she's not.
Last time, voters saw right through her act. Let's hope they're smart enough to do so again.
Did you see the pictures of the wittle
elephant taking a bath in the paper yesterday?
It was Sooooooo Cuuuuuute!!
Marc Fisher: Coming soon, scratch 'n' sniff animal pix.
I don't know if you can help me, but you seem to be the man about town with a few answers.
As I'm looking to purchase a house in the District, I keep coming across subdivisions known as "old city 1" and "old city 2". What is that about? Any idea where I can find the boundaries? I have lived in this area for 11 years and I don't have a clue. Thanks!
Marc Fisher: Sounds vaguely familiar, but I can't quite place it. Where in the city? Anyone out there who can help?
Bravo to the parents who swallowed their fears to allow their children to spend the night with their aunt. With or without terrorism, there's no guarantee of absolute safety anywhere. By letting their children go to their aunt's those parents were teaching them a valuable lesson about accepting life as it is. (For an illustration of how random life can be, look at that poor woman in Baltimore County killed sleeping in her bed when a car crashed through her wall.)
Marc Fisher: Live at 11, the New Terrorism: Sleeping in Your Own Bed!
Yes, yes, yes, I'm outraged that Chris Core is moving to the morning! Sean Hannity, no thank you, not in this lifetime. I will never listen to him, ever ever ever. What a crock. What was WMAL thinking?
Marc Fisher: They are thinking that Rush Limbaugh's program is not going to be around much longer because of his unfortunate hearing loss, and they are setting Hannity up to be the new afternoon king of conservative afternoon talk, and since MAL is owned by ABC, the station was expected to fall into line and pump up Hannity. Chris Core just happened to be the guy who had the hours they needed to take away.
I guess I'm just a native Washingtonian because I have a hard time buying into the theory of paying to see something in a museum.
I've grown up with the Smithsonian so when out-of-towners remark it's free, I'm left a little to wonder because that's what museums should be, no?
I guess if they do end up going to admission fees, I'll just rely on their online exhibits.
Marc Fisher: I share your feeling. I get miffed every time I have to shell out $10 or $15 to get into a museum in New York or Chicago. But it's an unfair feeling we all have. There's no reason it shouldn't cost more to get into a museum than to see a movie. In fact, it should cost a lot more. It's only because of these unfair expectations we have that museums feel compelled to keep admission fees so low.
Your museum dollars go to support essential scholarship and education programs. Your movie dollars go to feed Ecstasy and coke to Harvard screenwriters and strung out actors.
Mt. Rainier, Md.:
Re the limelight-seeking philanthropists: There is an alternative group of people who are the opposite, called Center for Responsible Wealth ('center' may not be quite right) based in Boston that is composed of wealthy people who want their money to make a real difference - but are not seeking the blandishments of the populace.
Marc Fisher: New to me, but sounds worth checking. Thanks
Mr. F: Thank the lord I don't live in PG County and worry about the School Board, BUT, isn't The Post editorial section showing a "we know what's good for you" attitude by saying the Maryland legislature should take control of the PG school system? To me it sounds like "you PG voters obviously don't know what your doing, so its up to those who know better to run the schools."
Marc Fisher: I differ with our editorial board on that. I cannot condone the idea that the best way to fix schools--either in the District or in Prince George's--is to eliminate parents' most important connection to their school system, through their elected school board. The same people who are urging an appointed board could use their political sway to recruit candidates and campaign for them.
Great column in the Post today, Mark, about Prince George's County. One good thing about living so close to PG County -- it makes the District government look engaged.
Marc Fisher: Ouch!
If things are so bad in PG, why aren't the residents doing anything about it?
Marc Fisher: Excellent question. A couple of other posters have some ideas....
Marc, I'm curious whether what is happening in Prince George's is because of the lack of a good government ethic and civic-minded citizenry such as I think we have in Arlington and what seems to the rule in Montgomery. Does my hypothesis seem to be true?
Marc Fisher: That's a piece of it, but why that has come to pass is the larger question. Part of it is that PG's affluence is relatively newfound. Part of it is that the county has not attracted the investment that its wealth ought to be luring. Part of the reason for that is racism on the part of retail investors, and part is that much of the more affluent population of the county remains focused on the District, where many still work.
But surely there are other, better explanations, too, which we'll have to wait til next time to thrash out.
I think the "Old City" includes at least the area around Logan Circle, east to 16th and north to about U street.
Marc Fisher: Sounds right. Thanks
We're over time, so just a coupla quick ones...
Old City #1/2:
Roughly West of the New Convention Center, North of Mass Ave, East of 14th St. NW and South of Florida Ave. I suspect a real estate agent could give a more detailed description.
Marc Fisher: Many thanks
Rush can hear again, he got a cochlear implant that apparently is working fine. He's not going anywhere. Sorry.
Marc Fisher: I hope you're right--he's vastly more talented than Hannity.
DC Olympics 2012:
Lets get that rail link to Dulles, outer beltway, mag-lev from Baltimore to DC, and the ability to rent out my condo for big$$. Can the Olympics be the grand infrasturcture delight that many claim? Also, any realistic shot that USA gets to host again as early as 2012?
Marc Fisher: Not terribly likely, but the history of the Olympics is that whichever city the US committee picks as our candidate almost certainly eventually gets the Games, even if passed over the first or second time.
Happy Valentine's Day, Marky Marc!
So what are you and the missus doing to celebrate?
Marc Fisher: Thanks--I think we'll go to Richmond and try some crimes against nature, or maybe to Prince George's and apply for the school board. Or maybe we'll just stay home and be figure skating judges.
Keep smiling, folks. See you next week.
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