Levey Live: Speaking Freely
Friday, May 7, 1999
"Levey Live: Speaking Freely," hosted by Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, appears every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, open-agenda discussion offering washingtonpost.com users around the world the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics of their choice with Bob.
Fearless Bob takes your questions about virtually everything, from sports and politics (there's a difference?) to world events, Metro area traffic and issues raised in Bob's columns.
Never fear, Bob was here, LIVE ONLINE, typing at you today from the offices of Newsweek, in downtown New York.
Here is a transcript of today's session:
Montgomery Co., MD:
What's your take on the county canceling the student tests scheduled for May 10 -because of the "rumors"-, when just a few days earlier -some- principals were calling for business as usual?
Bob Levey: I agree that the bigwigs were a bit quick to close the doors. But everyone is soo-o-o-o antsy these days about the possibility of Littleton II. It's hard to argue with better-safe-than-sorry.
Crystal City : In your column last Friday, you managed to inject the name "Levey" no less than SIX times. Is this the record? Can you think of any other columnist who engages in this wearisome practice? Will you ever CEASE AND DESIST??
Bob Levey: It's my way of avoiding that ever-popular pronoun, "I." Just a bit of whimsy--or attempted whimsy. Sorry if you were offended. By the way, you couldn't have been too offended or you wouldn't have read to the bitter end, and wouldn't have endured all six Leveys.
Falls Church, VA:
Bob Levey: There are many forms of journalism, and a degree in that field can lead you to lots of jobs other than driving a keyboard for a metropolitan daily. For example, TV, magazines, the Web, public relations, many more. I'd never suggest that journalism schools accept fewer students. That's slow suicide, especially in this world of competition between academic departments for bucks. As for that lecture from the boss, I've never heard it in so many words. But that spectre always hangs over our (increasingly gray) heads.
East Lyme CT:
Bob Levey: What kind of a host (or guy) would I be if I invited a guest to come in and then strongarmed him into answering questions in a certain way? The whole point of having guests on "Levey Live" is for you to hear their answers WITHOUT filtering or anyone else's agenda interfering. If he did in fact regurgitate the DNMC party line, don't you now know something important about him--and about it?
Northwestern University: Yesterday, for Michael Wilbon's on-line chat, my friends and I submitted four challenging -but fair- questions; none of which were answered. Instead, he -or his moderator- decide to field only "puff" questions. Are you the only Post staffer willing-able to field "hardball" questions?
Bob Levey: You must not be checking out Phyllis Richman and Caroline Hax, who get (and answer) questions from all across the sanity spectrum (to put it politely). I know Wilbon well and would be shocked if he ducked hardballs. It ain't in the guy's makeup. I didn't read that chat, but I will, and I'll bet I'm not wrong. By the way, thanks for the compliment about Bob not flinching. I try very hard not to do that. This show would be like Cream of Wheat if I did.
Bob Levey: Not too many folks--too many folks who drive one-to-a-car. Fairfax has plenty of room to absorb lots more businesses and lots more employees--as long as they understand that they'll have to live with the relative inconvenience of public transportation. As for the recruiting of Texas businesses to come to Virginia, you'd better get real. It goes on every hour of every day, in both directions.
What do you think of D.C.'s new mayor's performance so far. What will it take to erase the rest of the country's perceptions of D.C. as a criminal, corrupt city thanks to the Barry years?
Bob Levey: Williams is doing great on policy. I can't think of one idea he's had that wouldn't improve things. But he is still a bit tone-deaf politically. For example, a few days ago he privately signalled the Council that he'd back 31 percent tax cuts. Then he hopped in front of the microphones and TV cameras a couple of days later to say he wouldn't. Very poor political form--and it only invites Congress (which hangs over city politics like a big, fat vulture) to reimpose the harshest form of the Control Board.
Washington, D.C.: When are you going to invite the Republican national committee chair on?
Bob Levey: Already have. Bulletins as they happen.
Boston, MA: Is a Bush-Dole ticket unbeatable?
Bob Levey: A Dole-Bush ticket is unbeatable. A Bush-Dole ticket might well finish second to a Gore-Bradley ticket, or a Bradley-Gore ticket, or a Gore-Andrew Cuomo ticket, or a Bradley-Richard Daley ticket. Those last few are not fantasies, either. I've heard each discussed in recent days.
Bethesda,MD: Looks like the war in Bosnia is slowing down, peace talks are begining...I think Clinton won in the long run.
Bob Levey: No one has won and no one will win. Even if this latest Russian scenario holds, how can we hope to reinstall 100,000 refugees in their former homes, and to expect them to live there peacefully? This isn't some game of capture the flag where everyone returns to where he started once someone blows a whistle and says, "Game over!" The potential for 25 years of continuous war in the Balkans is right in front of our eyes. We'd better see that as we plot policy.
Herndon, VA: Do you buy the line that overall school violence has declined and that the Littleton, CO shootings are just an aberration?
Bob Levey: I think that wiping out 15 people is an aberration. I don't think violence in general has declined at all. Ask any principal. He/she will tell you that fistfights are common, screaming in other kids' faces is, too. There's a heck of a lot of tension in our world, and it can't be expected not to show up in schools.
Annandale, VA: Did you see the interview with Mrs. Milosovich on 60 Minutes last Sunday? She said with a stone face that there were no atrocities in Kosovo. Even her husband has admitted some severities caused by Serb soldiers. She reminds me of the folks who claim there was no Holocost. If, as some people say, she is the real ruler of Serbia, then I am some what concerned as to whether real peace can be achieved for Kosovo by negotiations alone. What are your thoughts?
Bob Levey: I didn't see the interview, but it sounds patently absurd. It isn't just the Western press that has reported the atrocities. Media from all over the world have blown this story wide open. For this reason, and many others, I'm indeed skeptical that real peace can be achieved--at least a real peace that will last longer than three hours.
hey bob i was going through
Bob Levey: Bill died last April, in his mid-80s. A great guy, a great columnist, a great mentor and a close friend
Fairfax, VA: What's your take on the school voucher issue? It seems to me that it encourages communities to simply abandon troubled schools rather than putting the effort into making them work.
Bob Levey: Couldn't have said it better. It's a surefire way to consign public schools to the bottom of the heap.
Arlington: What's taking this jury so long to acquit Julie Hiatt Steele? Seems like this whole case hinges on the credibility, or rather incredibility, of Kathleen Willey. They always talk about how smart juries in NoVA are, so I'm surprised it's taking them so long to laugh this case out of court.
Bob Levey: The whole case is a joke. I'm no big fan of perjury, but is this the most foundation-shattering case that Starr could get before a jury?
Bob Levey: I've said it 312 times before, so why not 313? The NBA needs the same sort of mandatory employee assistance program that most employers, large and small, now have. If you get caught drinking and driving, you don't work and don't get paid until you go through therapy. Please don't tell me that Strickland had a few basketball games to play shortly after his arrest. That's the whole point. Suspend him automatically, and suspend his paycheck, and suspend all the others who do the same thing, and you will see some of these spoiled-brat athletes shape up at appropximately the speed of a 3-on-2 fast break.
Ashburn, VA: Now that a lawsuit has been filed against Monica Lewinsky for wasting -a- taxpayer-'s- money, do you think a class action lawsuit should be filed against the NFL and-or the Cooke trustees for the irreperable damage done to the Redskins?
Bob Levey: Now I've heard it all. Take someone (anyone!) to court to repair the damage done to a.... football team. This isn't life and death we're talking about. It's a professional sports franchise. I hope that if any such lawsuit were ever filed, a judge would find his wastebasket, fast.
Arlington: Littleton was a tragedy, no doubt about it. But why all of the nationwide publicity and outpouring of grief? I attended DC United's game at RFK the weekend after the shootings and they had a moment of silence for the victims! Highschool age kids are murdered in the District every week and we don't have moments of silence for them! What's up with this country? Do you have to be a suburban white kid to deserve some publicity and hand wringing?
Bob Levey: Race has nothing to do with it. The circumstances of Littleton were not the same as we see in Washington during, for example, a drive-by drug hit. This was a huge public disaster that will have huge psychological effects on thousands of people for years. I see nothing wrong with a moment of silence at a sports event 2,000 miles away. However, I do worry about the commercialization of Littleton grief. I hate to toot the horn of a competitor, but The Wall Street Journal had a brilliant piece this week about how local and national businesses have been trying to "play" Littleton for marketplace advantage. Read it. A must.
Bob Levey: If every ironclad agreement can be reopened 22 years later, just because a Congressman is sicking of taking whining phone calls, I don't have a whole lot of hope for our politics, or our home town. Heck, no, the road shouldn't be widened. If people are having trouble getting to Tysons, the answer is subway trains and buses--not more lanes of I-66, which will fill up within four years anyway.
Why is it that the Mayor and the chief of police is making a stir over the events at the weekly Buzz event at the capital ballroom. the majority of the patrons of this events come for the music more than anything else. Drugs are within every facet of our society, so why should it be a surprise that some kids at these evnts are doing drugs. what needs to be done is have a sitdown between the city -mayor, police chief- and the promoters, patrons and those who care about the electronic dance scene to disucss what they percieve to be a problems and valid solutions to them. By shutting down the weekly dance event, all you are doing is shutting down another outlet for self expression, creativity, and a musical art form.
Bob Levey: Are you for real? Lesson in elementary reasoning: Drug dealing is against the law. Police officers are sworn to enforce that law. The officers at this club winked at blatant dealing. The episode has nothing to do with self-expression, creatitivity or music. It has to do with people who don't think the law applies to them. These people can ponder that attitude from inside a jail cell.
Fairfax, VA: I just read with some disbelief "The Regulators" column in today's business section. I can't believe someone is complaining because newer car headlights are too bright. I attribute this to what I call "deer in headlights syndrome". It's the tendancy to look into the oncoming headlamps. I think brighter headlamps are great? What about you?
Bob Levey: You'll never hear me criticizing extra light. I'm all for those brighter lamps. Good for me. Good for everyone else.
Bob, I got a million of 'em
Bob Levey: In order....
Bob Levey: Very good point. I'm afraid that it would inevitably need to involve decking and "flyover lanes." There's nothing uglier or noisier in the whole world.
Washington, DC: The Senate is going to take up some sensible gun control proposals next week--such as requiring background checks at gun shows, prevent juveniles convicted of crimes from buying guns, and requiring trigger locks to prevent unauthorized use. I wonder if the Republicans will kill this bill?
Bob Levey: In one perverse way, I hope the Republicans kill a bill that would demand safety locks. Wouldn't it be wonderful to hear them defend that vote during the 2000 campaign? Same goes with those other two provisions, although I think the safety-lock proposal is especially easy for any legislator to swallow, whether he gets money from the NRA or not. By the way, even Saint Charlton, the NRA's hopelessly befuddled talking head, said he'd favor locks.
Reno, Nevada: I just did some spring cleaning and put together bags of clothing for the Salvation Army but when I heard about the horrific tornadoes that hit Okla. I wanted to send these items there. Did you know that the Red Cross doesn't accept used clothing as donations? How do you feel about that? I only wanted to help in a direct way.
Bob Levey: This is our litigious world talking. The Red Cross (and many similar organizations) are worried about lawsuits from people who accept clothes, and then develop some horrendous skin rash (or worse). See if the Oklahoma congressional delegation has a better (and less obstructive) idea.
Fairfax, VA: There is a difference between "better-safe-than-sorry" and plain old overreacting. This week on the radio, I heard a local talkshow host reading from the newspaper about a small boy who was suspended pending expulsion because he DREW A PICTURE of a gun and then held it in front of others and said BANG. This is as bad as the girl who was expelled for sharing aspirin with a classmate, and was accused by the school district of selling drugs in school.
Bob Levey: I see your point, but I think you have to acknowledge that principals and teachers may know more about these individual kids than you might think. For example, what if the kid who drew the BANG picture had exhibited actual violent behavior on a regular basis? Now I'd support the decision to suspend him. Let's not be so quick to react until we know the whole story.
OK, nobody asked, and you haven't said, so...
Bob Levey: I grew up here, and the school I attended asked me to come up and speak this morning at Founders' Day (their first seven choices must have turned them down!). It was a lot of fun. I got to reminisce about the valedictory I wrote and delivered at my high school graduation, nearly 37 years ago. In that (un)memorable speech, I predicted that the Cold War would always be with us, that technology would be a passing fad and that the Yankess would always win the American League penmnant. Hey, oh for three ain't bad!
Washington, DC: You've mentioned our litigious culture twice today. Isn't it time for some kind of "loser pays" legislation whereby the loser of a lawsuit pays the winner's fees?
Bob Levey: Yeah, it sounds good, but I'm not sure it provides more fairness. It might provide less. Wouldn't it discourage a poorer person from suing a richer person? If Mr. Poor lost, he'd be even poorer, so chances are he'd back away from ever trying.
Washington, DC: In his opposition to the tax cut, do you think Williams is taking into account the increased revenue that could be generated by enticing more business into Washington? Washington has so much to offer as far as the metro and the central location to large companies, but yet it continually loses out to Virginia and Maryland because it costs so much to do business here. Wouldn't a tax cut be the first step to encourage economic growth. Not to mention the relief it would give to everyone who lives here -- including those at the lowest levels of pay!
Bob Levey: But the biggest thrust of the Council proposal would be to give a piece of tax-cut candy to the rich. Sure, businesses will always gravitate to places where it's cheaper to operate. But I'm not sure the bill as currently written would be much of a spur to those associations that now vlog Rosslyn, Old Town Alexandria and Crystal City
Wash DC: A serving of Campbell's soup contains 70 calories, 25 of which come from fat. That's approx. 30% fat. The label claims that the soup is 98% fat free. Isn't Campbell's claim false or misleading? Does FDA have any jurisdiction?
Bob Levey: I can't shed any direct light on this, because I haven't eaten (or read the label on) a can of Campbell's Soup in 35 years. I believe food companies can use the expression "fat-free" to mean something different from what you or I might mean by it. That's not an attempt to justify trickery. It just our wonderful modern world at work.
Regarding Wilbon's chat:
Bob Levey: Thanks for pointing this out. The Web is not seamless, and not error-free.
Washington, DC: STOP, STOP, STOP referring to DC's murdered children as "drive-by drug hits." Race may have nothing to do with the focus on Littleton, but your reference cheapens the value of the lives of our citizens who have had no involvement whatsoever in illegal drug dealings. Don't join the ranks of those who perpetuate urban ghetto lore to justify not spending appropriate resources to reducing crime in our cities.
Bob Levey: No attempt to cheapen life whatsoever. "Drive-by" is a useful and highly descriptive expression. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether enough money is spent to fight crime or drugs.
Warrenton, VA: There have been so many opposite points of view on Kosovo, some blatantly political. Who do you think has had the right approach?
Bob Levey: None of the above! Clinton has no plan. Meanwhile, the Republicans on the Hill are so disdainful of him that they think first about embarrassing him, second about what's best for the country.
Arlington, VA: In re: our litigious society. From where I stand, it seems that many off-the-wall suits are instigated by less-than-ethical attorneys. How about a system where lawsuits where the lawyers representing frivolous lawsuits are included in the judgement? After all, as "officers of the court," they should be sharing an interest in making our judicial system better, not worse.
Bob Levey: Nice idea. But don't expect a chorus of hosannas from lawyers. They will always argue that the system thrives on the ability to sue whenever you like, for whatever reason you like. A bit self-serving, eh?
Re: the boy who said BANG
Bob Levey: Then my original answer is that much truer. If a child that young hasn't shown an actual tendency to actual violence, let him slide--after a stern talking-to, of course