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Levey Live: Speaking Freely

Friday, May 21, 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.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Dan Murano/washingtonpost.com

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 his creatively cluttered office high atop The Washington Post building.

Here is a transcript of today's session:

dingbat




Bethesda, MD: Bob:
I am appointing you Metro Commissioner for a day.
What changes would you make if you ran Metro?
Also, which city -US & Abroad- in your opinion, has the best subway system?

Bob Levey: I'd mount an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at federal employees. Every single federal employee should be a daily Metro commuter. If it takes a free "check it out" $10 Farecard, that's a small price to pay. I'd drop the rush hour surcharge. I'd fire all the people who make announcements from central operations and replace them with professional announcers who can actually be heard and understood. I'd IMMEDIATELY plan for 400 percent more parking at Vienna, Glenmont, Addison Road and New Carrollton. I'd replace the red tiles nearest entrances and exits with something more like Astroturf. It's too slippery to walk on these tiles in bad weather. I'd spend whatever it takes to breathe life into the escalators. I'd develop express trains from the farthest burbs. I'd triple service in places where traffic is going to be a horror over the next ten years--like the Springfield Interstate interchange.
Did I get the job?
By the way, despite all these proposals, I still think our subway is far and away the best in the world.


Washington, D.C.: Why, if everyone is so afraid of crime and gunplay in the inner city schools do the school shootings always happen in suburban and rural schools?

Bob Levey: You're pretty loose with words like "everyone" and "always." It's strictly a coincidence that the shootings have happened in the suburbs so far. That could change tomorrow morning. It could change this afternoon.


Bowie, Maryland: Bob,

I am sick and tired of hearing the self-serving politicians from the District of Columbia wanting the District to become a State.
Let the District revert back to Prince George's County. After all, Prince George's County gave up the land originally to be used as the Nation's seat of Government. We would be proud to have them come back in the fold as citizens of the State of Maryland.
Now Bob, isn't that a simple and logical solution?

Bob Levey: You might be the only Marylander who would welcome D.C. back! Even so, I've been touting your idea (known as "retrocession") for years now. It fixes what's broken-- it would give voting rights immediately to half a million residents of D.C. It would also give them the same rights within a state that every other American now has (except for Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders). I'm with you all the way. By the way, many lawyers don't think it matters whether Maryland's governor and legislature would want the city back. They think that all Congress has to do is pick up the city (minus the federal core), lob it in the direction of Prince George's County and say, "Thanks for the loan. Catch!"


Washington, DC: Bob, what would you have said to BJ Surhoff last night after the major gaffe he committed?

Bob Levey: Don't sulk. Tomorrow's another day.


Brooklyn, NY: Bob, tell me that Hillary Clinton is not arrogant enough to try to run for Senate here.
There are financial questions, experience questions and most of all, her poor personal judgement questions. What do you make of this??

Bob Levey: I just can't believe she'll do it. Here's a woman who has been insulated from the public's reaction to her humiliation. But once she's on the campaign trail, every single question will be about cigars and Altoid mints. Why does she need to subject herself to this? It's not as if she can't get another job.


Washington, D.C.: Same question as three weeks ago: NOW can we outlaw guns?

Bob Levey: It can't happen fast enough. By the way, wouldn't it be great if parents who now keep guns at home volunteered to turn them into the police, for fear that their kids might use them in schools otherwise?


Mt. Rainier MD: I read Sen. Craig's quote yesterday in the paper; rough paraphrase is that we should be coming down on criminals instead of law-abiding citizens. Nobody is -born- criminal, we all start out 'law-abiding'. Those Littleton kids were law-abiding, the Georgia kid was law-abiding. Shoot, Cain was law-abiding. Do we have to make it so bloody convenient for the erstwhile law-abiding to become criminals by handing weapons over to them?

Bob Levey: What's so ridiculous about all this is that there was any debate about safety locks on guns and waiting periods at gun shows. How can anyone possibly object to these steps? Yet half the Senate thought they were somehow an infringement. An infringement is when a nut case can buy an entire closet full of artillery at a gun show, without even having to identify himself.


Arlington, VA: After all your talk about Scholl's cafeteria, I went there for lunch yesterday for the first time in my 12 years in Washington. It was the worst meal I think I've ever had. And I'm a small-town girl who loves basic, no frills food. The mashed potatoes were passable, until drowned in a watery brown sauce they tried to pass off as gravy. The tiny bit of the chicken that wasn't fat and gristle was rubbery, and seemed dangerously undercooked. Luckily, I only paid about $4 for this mess. What a disappointment! I can see why it's going out of business.

Bob Levey: It hasn't gone yet. And if you can bear it, give the place another try. Stick to the simple stuff, minus gravy. Sholl's could never have lasted all these years if EVERYTHING was gooey and horrid


Falls Church, VA: Does anyone other than myself think that the Media plays a large role in the recent copy cat shootings in our schools?

It is true that it is their job to inform the public but it seems to me that coverage goes too far and concentrates on the irrelevant issues? Some journalists make the whole situation seem in a sense...glamorous. Kids realize that by making bomb threats and taking weapons to school that the situation will be splashed all over the news and they will for a few days achieve notoriety.

Bob Levey: Man, you know how to get my blood pressure soaring! I ABSOLUTELY reject the idea that the media have created copycat-ism. The copycats themselves have created it, by reading our (by and large excellent) reporting, and going off into some fantasy zone. Have you seen any newspaper or TV station reporting that killing kids is glamorous? That leap of logic (if you want to call it that) occurs only in the brain of the beholder. Comments like yours are really dangerous, because you're in effect arguing that we shouldn't report at all on incidents like Littleton and Conyers. I've NEVER seen any problem get better because there's less coverage of it.


Washington, D.C.: Bob--

What is Peter Angelos thinking and why on earth does Ray Miller still have a job in Baltimore?

Bob Levey: Angelos still believes he has amassed a winning team. He's wrong. As for Miller, wait until Memorial Day


Arlington, VA: Everyone should give up Metro and cars in favor of bikes! I commuted by bike for the first time this morning -from Arlington -- about 7-8 miles-. It took about the same amount of time to bike that it does for me to take E. Falls Church metro into Farragut West -including the walk from my house-. Once I've done it a few more times, I think it will be faster to bike than Metro.

It's wonderful! And biking in traffic up to my office wasn't too bad. Of course, I have a feeling the evening will be much more difficult.

Bob Levey: Wonderful! You will save money, promote clean air, and lose 20 pounds before you know it. But please be careful when you're in heavy traffic. Drivers think they do own the whole damn road, as the bumper sticker would have it. They will sideswipe you, curse at you, throw things at you. Be sure you don't veer or swerve. It might be hazardous to your health


Silver Spring, Maryland: I might miss the show today, but my question is, "Who is financing the Serb side of the war in Yugoslavia". They are evicting their own taxpayers so they must be getting their money somewhere to pay their expenses. Wars are not "free".

Bob Levey: I don't know, but I suspect the answer is "the Russians," either over or under the table. Minicommercial: Be sure to join us on June 8, when our guest on "Levey Live" will be Phil Bennett, The Post's assistant managing editor for foreign news. Phil is in the Balkans even as we type. We'll ask him your question and many others.


Washington, DC: I really enjoy these chats every Friday. Here's my pet peeve re: Metro: why is it that people -for the most part- adhere to the "stand on the right, walk on the left" rule on the escalators between the turnstile and street levels, but not on the escalators between the turnstile and platform levels? And what about those people who do walk, and then stop when they get about five steps from the top. If you're walking, Walk!

Bob Levey: Amen, and please be sure to check out my June 2 column. Just finished writing it before today's show began. It's about keeping right on escalators, and ways that might actually happen


Columbia, Missouri: I understand that the House is planning to attempt delaying a vote on the Senate's new gun control legislation. In light of current public opinion, won't this damage the GOP? Are they really that beholding to the NRA?

Bob Levey: I can't understand what the GOP is thinking about (if anything). The polls scream "more gun control." But even if the GOP insists on government-despite-polls (not always a bad idea), they have allowed themselves to be painted as the bad guys, cast as murder-sympathizers. If I were a GOP consultant, I'd be going out of my mind around now. Yes, I do think that they're that beholden to the NRA. But some day, a progressive Republican candidate (George Dubbayew?) is going to break the chain of logic that always seems to link gun control to some ogre taking your weapons away. That link is nonsense, yet the NRA continues to scare gun-owners with it.


Washington, DC: Bob, I work at one of the radio stations off Wisc.Ave. I've got a question that most of us have different answers. How do you deal with resturants that try to pick up your check because you're a local 'celeb?' Where do you draw the line about 'payola' and a nice gesture? I've noticed that now that people recognize me from the station or show, they feel the need to buy me stuff. It happens all the time now, and it is quite disconcerting. I can't even deamnd the check, so all I'm left to do is leave a huge tip. What do you do? This kind of question is hard to answer, but I think your readers would be interested in your response!

Bob Levey: I've worked at The Post for nearly 32 years, and I'm not kidding when I saw that some of my most awkward moments have involved restaurant checks. Either the house wants to pay, or my guest wants to pay. Verboten either way. What I do (and have always done) in cases like yours is to ask to see the manager privately. I explain that I could be fired if I let someone butter me with free lunches. I explain that it makes me uncomfortable. I leave hanging in the air the implication that I'll never be back if something isn't done about this. It always has been, in my experience.


D.C.: Why are Metro riders so obnoxious these days? In the past two days, I have watched -standing- as four very pregnant women have had to stand in the middle of huge rush hour crowds. Perhaps I'm naive, but I thought that it was customary to offer a seat to those who obviously need it more than you. I have given my seat up on numerous occasions and I fail to see why others would not do the same. Theories?

Bob Levey: It's not only customary; there's a big sign right there in every car that reminds peons like you and me to give seats to people who need them most. I can't explain why rudeness seems worse lately. I'm not sure it actually is. Maybe it's the pollen, or sunspots, or the fact that the Orioles reek.


Warrenton, VA, : Bob, I have been critical of our action in Kosovo from the beginning. It may eventually get Milosovich to succumb but the damage to Kosovars is already done and permanent. What I find even more disturbing are the innocent people being killed by errant NATO bombs. To me, bombing a hospital even by accident is unforgiveable. What are your thoughts?

Bob Levey: I'm afraid that bombs are not perfectly aimable, so incidents like the one at the hospital are inevitable. Of course they're unforgivable; so is war. But that doesn't seem to have prevented hundreds of armed conflicts in the last 20 years alone. As for the eventual outcome in Kosovo, I think it's lunacy to assume that once the guns are silent, everyone will just come trooping home, and life will resume as it was. No chance--and that's one reason why Clinton's strategy is so full of holes. Didn't he consider this? What's his plan for guaranteeing the safety of civilians one, three, five years from now?


Silver Spring, MD: Why would Congress voted for base closings and when a community comes up with a good solution for use of that base refuse to fund the project? Yesterday the appropriation community turned down GSA's request for funding for consolidation of FDA at White Oak, MD.

Bob Levey: It's always about the power of the local member of Congress. They never mess with bases in some heavyweight's district, or fail to fund an alternative. It's very significant that the White Oak site is in Connie Morella's district--and she hasn't been a friend of DeLay and company.


Dulles-ville VA: Bob, you forgot one thing in your good list of Metro improvements:

TRAINS TO DULLES

I'm sitting here in my Herndon office knowing that at 5ish I'll get on the road and soon be sitting in the messon 66 to get to my home in Arlington -- walking distance to the Clarendon Metro.

The whole Dulles area is an example of how NOT to build anything. Metro coming here would help. -And yeah, commuting from Arlington is better than living out here.-

Bob Levey: Well said. Amendment accepted. Metro to Dulles should have been planned 20 years ago. Every day that people like you go without it is a drip-drip-drip against your mental health, and the economic health of our metropolitan area.


Germantown, MD: As a gun owner -childless, by the way-, I am not very fond of the new legislation. Fortunatly, it will not have much impact on MD since we already have similar legislation on the state books. The problem with the child safety locks is that you can force people to buy them -as if guns weren't already too expensive- but you cannot force them use them. Everytime there is new legislation, guns become more expensive. The price of an AK-47 -or imitation- has increased by about 300% in the past decade! Soon only the rich will be able to afford guns. For many gun owners, it is a hobby - no more no less. Anti-gun lobbyists don't consider the recreational shooter when the write these nonsensical laws. Besides, why haven't we looked at the OTHER factors in the Littleton shootings - such as the parents! Why is it that guns automatically becomes the scapegoat?

Bob Levey: We in the media have certainly looked at those Littleton parents, and I agree that they have much to explain. But it still comes back to the ease and efficacy of guns. Try it this way: Do you think two wacked-out kids could have killed 15 people at Columbine with bows and arrows?


Washington,DC: Why is there no focus on making the penalties for committing a crime with a gun more severe? Don't a lot of criminals obtain their guns illegally already? What are more laws controlling guns going to do when the justice system is so screwed up that Amy Fisher can get out of prison after serving only 7 years for trying to murder another person with a gun? A message needs to be sent to criminals that commit crimes with guns that they will rot in jail if they are caught.

Bob Levey: I've never favored mandatory sentences for any crime, because I think that circumstances are often different (and critically different). But guns are too prevalent and too nasty. I'd love to see judges FORCED to jail gun-wilders for a long, long time.


Washington, DC: Bob -
I'm a committed metro-rider and tried to bashing it, but I'm really getting frustrated. I only ride 5 stops each way daily, but even that is too much anymore! At Eastern Market, a different one 3 escalators is always broken, often 2. And at Federal Triangle, during rush hour, they've been running shorter trains, what am I paying my rush hour surcharge for then? Final straw - Weds. nite - trains would whiz by w-o stopping and w-o explanation, and I boarded a train, and had to get off two stops later when the operator announced right before closing the doors that the train was "express" and wouldn't stop for 3 more stops. I heard the "we're working on it but it will take a year" - why should I hang in there for a year? And why can't they learn to communicate with those of us standing bewildered on the train not knowing why we are stopped?

Bob Levey: You should hang in there for a year because any alternative is worse--and it will be "worser" 12 months from now. As for communication by Metro, I agree totally. See my answer to the first question today. Not only do we need loudspeaker announcements in English, but we need more of them. Constant communication, constant honesty, constant fostering of a we're-in-this-together feeling.


Washington: Can you explain the love affiar with George W. Bush? I haven't seem him do a single impressive thing. He's like the new Star Wars- all media hype an dno substance.

Bob Levey: His resume looks full of holes to me--no foreign experience, no Washington experience. But the big money loves him (so far, anyway), and that'll get you way up there in the polls all by itself. To be fair, he isn't pure hype. The guy IS governor of the third largest state, after all, and that's not a walk in the park. But he seems to me to be another in a long list of anti-Washington candidates. Carter hadn't been here, and trumpeted that fact. Ditto Reagan, ditto Clinton. I think we should be thinking just the other way around. One of Clinton's biggest problems has been his lack of a relationship with Capitol Hill. That wouldn't be true if he'd had experience here. Why do we always look outside the Beltway when The Big Job is all about managing things INSIDE the Beltway? Would you hire someone to run your business if he had never worked a day in it, and took potshots at it all the time from 2,000 miles away?


Arlington: I remember all the hoopla about the Post going to color photos a few months back -- how technologically advanced it was, etc.

Last weekend I was at my parent's house rummaging through an old box, and found the Post from the day after JFK's funeral. The big picture of the carriage carrying the coffin was in bold, bright color, even after all these years.

So what's so advanced about the new color technology if it could be done 36 years ago?

Bob Levey: Today, it can be done every day (and is). Thirty-six years ago, technology was so neanderthal that color photos could appear only rarely. Reason: each color in that JFK photo had to be applied to each copy of that day's paper separately. That meant that you'd have to send the entire press run through the press four times--once for blue, once for red, and so on. That takes ages! And we are in a time-sensitive business, after all.


falls church: your chatter from germantown is making me cry. gosh, golly, gee, that's a travesty that AK-47's are getting so expensive. where's the justice in this world??

Bob Levey: Thanks for a much-needed chuckle


Arlington VA: For the people who think gun control won't help... how do you explain

the UK
Canada
France
Germany
Australia
NZ

and all those other countries that have a tiny fraction the number of gun murders as the US?

My family lived through -& still lives through- the troubles in Belfast & they are safer than I am in downtown DC. Go figure.

Bob Levey: I've gone and figured, and here's where I come out: We are so cavalier about human life in general in this country. Please, please, don't start an abortion debate with me. I don't mean it that way. I mean that we seem so quick to exhale sharply (and selfishly) and say, "Thank God it wasn't me." For instance, one of these days, 100,000 people are going to be killed in an earthquake in Southern California. You know it, I know it, and all 100,000 know it. But do they come to their senses and move to Nevada? No, they gamble that their number won't be "called." And the day that earthquake happens, most of us will say, "Too bad. What time does "Jeopardy" come on?"


wash, dc: Don't you think the entire star wars saga is a rip off of asian culture-characteristics?

ie:

- force = chi
- light saber = sword
- obi wan kinobi, princess lea, etc = asian names
- outfits-hair = simulate old asian costumes

Bob Levey: I don't have the slightest idea. But I do have this comment: What a wacky country we inhabit when a movie arouses five times as much passion as a real war in Eastern Europe.


Falls Church, VA: Speaking of rudeness on the metro trains, I tried last week to offer my seat to an older woman -late 60's I guess- who seemed like she needed it. I got a very loud and rude "NO!!" back from her. I've gotten responses like this before. I'm afraid people interpret the offers to mean, "Here, you look old and decrepit, have a seat!" How do I tell when I should offer a seat? I'm a twenty-something and often have a hard time discerning. Do I offer a seat to someone in their 50's? 60's? definitely 70's, but I'm always afraid of offending someone.

Bob Levey: Just get up and don't say anything. If Ms. Decrepit wants the seat, she'll take it. If not, what have you lost?


Garden of Eden: When, in your opinion, did we become a nation full of hate, negativism, spite, and immorality? I wish I could ask you a more pleasant question, but it is hard for me to think of one at the moment.

Bob Levey: I can't point to a single moment, and I don't agree that we're totally without morality. But I always cite the post-Wolrd War Two decline in religion and the simultaneous increase in divorce. The minute you make it easier to dissolve family, and the bonds that hold it together, the faster you set the table for violence, hate, etc...


Bethesda, MD: In your first answer in this chat you wanted Federal employees to take the metro even if it takes a free $10 metrocard. Federal employees get $44 in free metro fare every month if they agree not to use government parking facilities. Pretty good deal, too bad not many people know about it.

Bob Levey: And too bad that more don't take advantage. Here's the study I wish Uncle Sam would run: What percentage of federal employees drive their cars DIRECTLY from home to workplace, and then DIRECTLY home again? In other words, how many don't need a car to go shopping, pick up Junior at day care, etc.? I'd bet that the percentage is HUGE.


washington, dc: I read an article yesterday-the truth is that I can't remember where I read it- which was talking about the GA shooting and all the bomb threats. It said something to the effect of "the media doesn't usually report on bomb threats because of the fear that it will encourage copycatting, however in the wake of littleton, there have been numerous news stories about bomb threats in schools around the country" What do you think of this statement, do you think that the media has changed it's policy on reporting bomb threats, etc. Do you think that they should?

Bob Levey: We've never reported bomb threats as such, so there's no need to change any policy. Part of the reason we don't is to avoid copycatting, but a better reason is that it ain't news, and it's clearly designed to boost some loser's ego. However, when thousands of people are affected, as they were by the rash of bomb threats right after Littleton, to the point where entire school systems are paralyzed, that's news in a big way.


Germantown, MD: Big problem with having DC revert to PG County: no money. PG County can barely handle its own problems. Maryland State Government couldn't come up with enough money to handle DC either. It is a lose-lose situation for DC.

Bob Levey: DC wouldn't be folded into PG County. It would become a new county in the state of Maryland--call it Capital County, for lack of anything better. Capital County would get its proportional share of goodies from Annapolis. And it would run itself the way every other Maryland county does. By the way, Capital County would not be a drain on the Free State. If retrocession happened tomorrow morning, Capital County would be the fourth richest county in the state, despite D.C.'s reputation as Welfareville.


Arlington, VA: My husband, who grew up in Belfast, has no idea how you would go about getting a gun in the U.K., but he knows you can walk into K-Mart or Wal-Mart here. And you might want to note that D.C. alone has had more murders in past 30 years than Northern Ireland. Scary, huh?

Also, how can Rosie O'Donnell go on an on about Littleton when she does commercials for a company that sells guns?

Bob Levey: Rosie O'Donnell being taken seriously on the gun issue only underscores how leaderless we sometimes are


Bethesda: re: Metro and Parking -

Bob, I live 3 miles from Vienna metro. Between there and my home is every possible store I would need to visit. So even the excuse of "I need my car to go shopping on the way home" is bogus for those of us who don't walk right to the station. Now if only there was a beltway line to get me from Bethesda to VA easily. (wistful sigh)

Bob Levey: Don't get wistful yet. Glendening has proposed a Beltway line. Yeah, I know, it would only cost 47 times what he's got in the budget. But where there's a need (and a will)....


Alex VA: Who would you fire first: Ray Miller, Wes Unseld, Charlie Caserly, or Norv Turner ?

Bob Levey: Unseld. He took a bad mess and made it worse. The others just haven't made messes better.


Bob Levey: That's all we have time for today. Thanks for being with us. Be sure to join us every Friday at the same time. And if you haven't checked out the Tuesday version of our show, here's your personal engraved invitation. On May 25, our guest will be the chairman of the Montgomery County Council, Isiah (Ike) Leggett. That show will appear from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time.


© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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