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  •   Levey Live: Speaking Freely

    February 19, 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 users around the world the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics of their choice with Bob.

    Bob Levey
    Bob Levey
    Dan Murano/TWP

    "Levey Live: Speaking Freely" differs from Bob's regular Tuesday noon Web show--which features newsmakers and Post writers. The Friday event is what talk radio folks call an "open mike" show, your chance to schmooze with Bob about anything in his Monday through Friday columns , in the news or on your mind.

    Never fear, Levey was here--LIVE ONLINE --his coffee pot bubbling merrily as he typed at you from his palatial penthouse office high atop Babylon-on-the-Potomac.

    Please join Bob again next Tuesday when his guest will be C.D. Mote, president of the University of Maryland.

    Here is a transcript of today's session:

    Glenmont, MD: Has the fact that the Washington Post endorsed Bill Clinton twice and Marion Barry three times caused there to be any revisitation of the criteria by which the editorial board selects its endorsements?

    Bob Levey: As I'm sure you know, we do a very sharp church-and-state separation here between the news side and the editorial page. I have never attended a whom-to-endorse meeting, and I doubt that I'd be welcome. That having been said, I doubt there will be any revisiting of endorsement criteria. We just call 'em as we see 'em. We don't guarantee sainthood.

    Crystal City, Va: Last week you declared that "the morality of our country" has "declined hugely in the last 50 years." Would you care to elaborate?

    Bob Levey: Happily. I'm very disturbed at how easy it is to obtain a divorce. I'm amazed at how widespread adultery seems to have gotten (although there are no reliable statistics). I'm worried by the decline in the influence of organized religion. I'm utterly aghast that Truth-with-a-capital-T doesn't seem to matter any more. At the same time, please don't make me out to be some right-wing family values zealot. I believe deeply in the First Amendment. So I don't run in horror over the pornography that's easily sold and broadcast. That's what freedom means.

    Burke, VA: Bob, in last week's discussion someone said, and you agreed, that a tax cut of 100 bucks or so wasn't going to make a big difference in your life. I feel the same way about the individual retirement accounts Clinton proposed in his State of the Union address. 100 bucks from the government in some retirement account means very little. I'd rather be given the money in my tax refund and let me decide how to invest it. The administration is telling us with this proposal that we're all too stupid to understand how to invest for our retirement.

    Bob Levey: Lotta truth in what you say. I'd rather see the 100 bucks go back to one's Social Security account.

    Washington, D.C.: Is there some sign that is legible only to tourists that says, "Please stand all over the escalator, and when you get to the top (or bottom) STOP and wait for everyone else in your party so that no one can get by"?

    Bob Levey: Who says it's just tourists? Yesterday, as I left the system at McPherson Square, a woman (obviously a Washington office occupant) camped in the left "lane" of the escalator, and acted real put out when people asked her to move. The answer, of course, is much larger signs that say keep right except to pass.

    Washington DC: Bob - loved your article today! Since I work in the PR office at Gallaudet, this was the talk of the day. I'm wondering why it's so that (hearing) people can have such crazy reactions to deaf people - is it that they really *don't* know? Forget that we're people too? What? Thanks for today's lively debate.

    Bob Levey: Thanks so much for the kind words. Yes, I think it's precisely because the non-deaf can't imagine what it's like to be deaf. Too many people can't see beyond their own sphere.

    Greenbelt, MD: What do you think are the most effective things that individual people can do without the aid of government to improve our society in our neighborhoods, cities and counties.

    Bob Levey: Take an active role in their neighborhoods, families, communities. I happened to see a piece on TV last night about Seat Pleasant, Md., where there'd been 21 druggie murders in the last few months. A man who has lived in the area for 31 years said, "If you don't get off your doorstep and fight it, it will be ON your doorstep." Right, right, right! I just hate it when people whine and moan about how someone else isn't solving their problems.

    Warrenton, VA: Why has out legislative system come to listen so much to businesses and so little to the voters? It is very difficult for a voter to get to speak with a Congressman, for example, when big businesses can walk in and have very much influence. For example, I know of no one who likes junk mail and telesolicitors. How can the voters get their elected representatives back? How can we get the silent 70% to go out and vote?

    Bob Levey: Campaign finance reform would resolve all of the problems you mention by severing (or at least softening) the link between politics and money. I'm not saying that a Congressman would then cease to listen to the largest employer in his district. But that relationship wouldn't be tainted by bucks, the way it is now.

    Warrenton, VA: I voted for Jim Gilmore and think on balance he is doing a good job as VA Governor. But I also feel he was and is off base on the Michele Finn situation. Seems like none of his business and he refuses to admit he made a mistake.In fact he seems hell bent on compounding it. Your thoughts?

    Bob Levey: An amazing error by Gilmore, which you describe very well. Who gave him the right to intercede in this situation? He is paying for this at the polls, and he should.

    Energodar, Ukraine: Howdy, Bob, from half way around the world. I have been here since Feb. 8th. So it was no surprise that the Chief Executive P-W-E (Person With Ego, peewee, remember this?) got off again. This was thanks in part to the media always hyping polling results. However, the media forgot that over 50% of all eligible voters did not vote in the last election. I believe these people when polled don't care and so answered "do not remove". This fallacy has now given rise to "Comeback Kid" again. I find this amazing since most talking heads said the Senate would never remove him. Thus, how can someone "comeback" from a sure victory?

    Bob Levey: Clinton is back only in terms of appearances. No one on the Hill trusts him or wants to have anything to do with him. If the Comeback Kid thinks he's going to get any of his agenda through Congress, he's smoking loco weed--and this time, he must have inhaled.

    Alexandria, VA: Bob: Wilbon's at it again. Now he's placing blame on the city title game being in jeopardy on everyone who isn't responsible. As usual, he's looking for a handout. What's with you people in DC? It's gimme this, gimme that. I can't do anything on my own, so, you owe me. Give me a break.

    Bob Levey: It's written in the U.S. Constitution: No columnist shall ever take issue with another columnist. So I can't (and won't) rattle Wilbon's cage. But I do think you need to realize that nothing gets done in D.C. easily--not even a ball game. Pointing that out (which is all Wilbon did this morning) is hardly a demand for a handout.

    DC: I have another deaf-related anecdote to add to you braille menu at McDonalds. The town I used to live in had buzzers that sounded when it was safe to cross at crosswalks. One day I was walking with a classmate and he commented on what a good idea the buzzers were and that it was nice that the town was looking out for deaf people like that. The sad part was that it took an explanation on my part to make him understand what was wrong with his observation.

    Bob Levey: Wonderful! Thanks for weighing in.

    Washington DC: You mentioned today the death of the six year old boy who panicked on the metro and got hurt. In trying to look up the history of metro's accidents/reaction to accidents I've found very little - are there few accidents or just little documentation? It's disturbing.

    Bob Levey: There have been a handful of accidents over the years, all of them prominently covered by all sorts of media. I'm surprised you're having trouble. None of this has been a secret at any point in the process. Not only that, but several cases have been litigated at great length.

    Mt. Rainier MD : I have to question your take on morality. In particular, the rate of divorce to me does not necessarily indicate a decline (or advance) in morality. 50 years ago, a divorced woman was 'immoral' regardless of why she was divorced. Even today a lot of women hang tough in bad marriages because they stand to lose so much - including their social standing, their church, and their friends. Families disguised abuse of all kinds in the name of not hanging out one's dirty linen. Is getting divorced worse than protecting an abuser?

    Bob Levey: No. But getting divorced because "the magic has gone out of the relationship" or because "he can't buy me a new car every year any more" strikes me as insane, especially when children get caught in the backwash. If you're going to get married, commit to it. Recognize that there will be bad days. Work together. Don't ever coast. Don't ever expect to coast. I'm afraid we have a bunch of marrieds who really think it'll be like the movies and the magazines, and who bail out into divorce court the second storm clouds form.

    Dale City,Va: Bob,
    I'm happy to see your concern with ease of divorce, and truth "with a capital T" not mattering so much anymore, but then you go and make a comment about not being a "right wing family values zealot". Morals, ethics, and standards shouldn't belong to any political side. Why would you call anyone who believes in these things a zealot?

    Bob Levey: Don't misunderstand me. I agree with you. My stance doesn't (and shouldn't) belong to any part of the political spectrum. But we both know that conservatives have tried to turn this into "their" issue. The farthest-out of the right wingers make the most noise about this. It's holier-than-thou junk, if you ask me. But that's our political reality.

    loveland, colorado: with trent green going to saint louis and brad johnson here for three draft picks, can the nfl move on the sell of the redskins? i would like to see john cooke keep the team, but from what i've read in the papers, it should be a no brainer on who should have the team. can the nfl move any faster on the sell?

    Bob Levey: I can't for the life of me figure out what's taking so long. If anyone offered me $800 million for a football team, I'd make up my mind in about 3.5 seconds. The NFL reminds me of Congress. Every last little faction has to be massaged, every time there's a decision to make. No wonder the NFL is working about as fast as Congress usually does.

    Beltsville, MD: How can we change the campaign finance system when the elected officials have an incentive not to change it?

    Bob Levey: Put pressure on our elected representatives to listen to the people who elected them! By the way, you shouldn't be quite so cynical. There are dedicated people on the Hill (McCain, Feingold, Meehan, Shays) who have already gotten farther with this than the "smart money" thought they would--or wanted them to.

    Washington, D.C.: Have you noticed an increase in rudeness on the subways? (Meaning a lot fewer people are waiting for people to exit before trying to get on.) Why is that? It's what made this system different. Are we doomed to become like New York in that respect?

    Bob Levey: It doesn't seem any worse than ever, and it's NOTHING like New York, where they'll toss you an elbow in the ribs worthy of the NBA if you don't move fast enough. In D.C., I'd say it's worst at rush hours, when more mice are getting on and off cars. But much of the time, them that's on gets off, and them that wants to get on waits for the first group to finish.

    Washington, DC: I'm a baseball fan and glad to see a renewed interest in getting baseball in DC. Even better is William's idea to pay for it through revenue generated by the stadium instead of foisting a tax on DC residents -- a smart move since we're already shelling out for the convention center. What do you think of our chances of getting a baseball team here in DC? Also is there any reason they can't use RFK stadium since it was originally built for baseball anyhow?

    Bob Levey: One correction: Williams said there WOULD be a tax on businesses in the immediate neighborhood (which is only fair, since they'd stand to gain most from the stadium). I'd say the chances of getting a team are no better than 50-50. Not only does Northern Virginia have an active and interested "fishing party," but don't forget that the Orioles can block expansion if they are so inclined (they'd invoke territorial limits). As for RFK, it would have to be rehabbed, but I say it could and should be. By the way, a rehabbed RFK was CLEARLY the answer for the Redskins, too. Do you know a single, living, breathing soul who is happy about that monstrosity at Raljon? All I hear about it is complaints--traffic, bathrooms, amenities, cost of refreshments.

    Washington DC: Speaking of McCain, what's with this crazy desire to put even more flights in at National? I mean, sure I fly there all the time, but it's already busy as is!

    Bob Levey: Try it this way: Do you detect a vast horde of people who are dying to fly to Phoenix from National, non-stop? This is nothing but old-fashioned, benefit-the-home-state political logrolling. How very odd that McCain would do this, since he is oh-so-right on so many other issues (tobacco, campaign finance, how much personal detail a politician needs to reveal).

    Wash DC: Hey Bob, any word on what Williams is going to do about all the rats in this town? And I mean, literally, the hairy toothy buggers.

    Bob Levey: Believe it or not, D.C. has always had an extensive (and somewhat successful) rat eradication effort. The problem is that rats breed faster than crews can clean out the results of that breeding.

    Washington, DC: What do you think is the future for a commuter tax?

    Bob Levey: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Deeply asleep

    Washington, DC: Again, on the issue of morality. I immensely dislike the recent Calvin Klein TV commercial, but do you think Jerry Falwell and others are over-reacting to the child pornography thing?

    Bob Levey: In case you haven't heard about this, folks, the latest Klein ad shows two children, both about six years old, in underwear. The outlines of male genitalia (but not the genitalia themselves) are clearly visible. Many right-wing "family values" screechers have decried the ads. I think this is a huge over-reach. The ad has nothing to do with child porn. It has to do with a kid in his underwear! By the way, in case you haven't heard, half the world has male genitalia, so why should this picture be considered shocking?

    Washington DC: They're not thinking of increasing subway fares again are they? I hear that annually the subway is 50 million short for the 150 million to keep up the metro system...

    Bob Levey: It wouldn't amaze me a bit. How else can they cover the $2 billion or so they'll need for maintenance (see today's Post story)?

    Leesburg, VA: What can we as an affluent country do to affect immediate aid for famine relief in North Korea?

    Bob Levey: Obvious: give money. Isn't aid already getting there, via the Red Cross?

    Bob Levey: Twenty minutes left in today's show. Keep 'em coming.

    San Francisco, California: Do you think that the laws concerning surrogacy should be changed to help the surrogate mothers suffering from post natal depression?

    Bob Levey: How would you write a law that applied to post-natal depression only among surrogates? My guess: One non-surrogate would test such a law, and it would come crashing down.

    Chambersburg, PA: Hi Bob,

    I love your column and I miss it when you're on vacation! I've only been a subscriber to the Post for a year and half or so, ever since I moved into the area. Is there any way you could get the Post to run old columns of yours when you're on vacation? Of course they'd have to be "timeless" ones, but surely there are some your old readers would like to see again and give us new readers a chance to read them for the first time.

    Bob Levey: Thanks so much for being such a true-and-blue. This idea has come up regularly since I began writing the column nearly 18 years ago. The answer is no, and while the explanation may not satisfy you, it's the world I have to live in.
    The overall space budget for The Post (a document approximately as thick as War and Peace) allots only 48 weeks of Levey space a year, because they know I get four weeks off every year. The four "slide weeks" are re-banked, and used by other parts of the paper. So if we were to run Bob's Greatest Hits, something else would not run--maybe a special report on thong underwear, maybe extra coverage on Russia, maybe (heaven forfend!) a couple of comics.

    Washington DC: In light of today's article, what do you think will help increase awareness and sensitivity among hearing people towards the deaf? It's not as though deaf people are a recent invention; you'd never know it from the reactions one gets though.

    Bob Levey: More natural contact between hearing people and non-hearing people. As you might know, The Post employs (and has always employed) many deaf printers. Many years ago, when I was assistant sports editor of The Post, I used to work with these printers, getting the sports page put together each night. It was a great education. I've never forgotten the central message: They're just like everyone else (except that they sign a lot better than I ever will!).

    Vienna, VA: What should be the next audit target in DC? I'd imagine that there is much more to be uncovered other than telephone mischarges.

    Bob Levey: My spies tell me all the time about bigiwgs using D.C. employees to do private work for them, while employees are on the public clock. Barry got caught doing this, as you might recall. Spies say others soon will, too.

    Bethesda, MD, : Hi bob,
    Just wanted to share with you one thing. That phrase - "family values" - exactly what is that? Aren't they just values? Why do people think that ONLY the married people have values? Singles are not evil, devious lawbreakers.

    Bob Levey: Very well said. "Family values" is just a slogan that means (to many right-wingers): I'm better than you. No reason in the world why a single person can't have excellent values.

    Rockville, MD: What's your take on the oft-mentioned Hillary Clinton ("I've never lived there, but have visited once or twice") New York senate race?

    Bob Levey: I'd be awfully surprised if she does it. Why should she campaign for months, when she knows that the first 30 questions at every stop will concern the blue dress, the definition of the word "is," the whole awful mess? Doesn't she have another (better) way to make a contribution? Shouldn't she head a non-profit or a university?

    Washington, DC: During rush hour l rarely get a seat on the subway, it is more crowded and less comfortable; so why should l pay more for less service?

    Bob Levey: They never promised you a seat. They did promise you safe, swift and reliable point-to-point service--and for the most part, you get it.

    Washington, DC: Let's forget a commuter tax. More taxes are the last thing we need. In fact, since technically we have no representation, let's get rid of all Federal income tax in DC, and have only a locally imposed sales tax. If you want to see all that urban flight reduced, that would do it in a second. Think there's any chance?

    Bob Levey: Not unless the schools are fixed. See my column of March 1 for an extended discussion of this

    Arlington, VA: I was at the George Washington basketball game on Wednesday and Mayor Williams was introduced. He also helped to hand out NCAA pins to two women's teams. He strikes me as a totally different personality than Marion Barry and not completely the nerd that he pretends to be? Comments?

    Bob Levey: He isn't (and isn't ever going to be) the smoothest fish in the sea. But he is making the rounds, and making friends. I very much like what I see. He seems to be about the job, and not about the face in the mirror

    Washington DC: So you mean to say, that the post thinks of its newspapers as in a yearly (or monthly) format than just day by day?

    Bob Levey: I know the news is shocking, but yes, once in a while, we do actually plan.

    Fairfax, VA: Am I paranoid or the crime rate
    has risen in Fairfax county in
    last ten years?

    Bob Levey: You are not paranoid at all. I believe serious crime in Fairfax has increased by at least 200 percent in the last 25 years. Of course, population has, too.

    Washington DC: Hmm,, in relation to rudeness on the subway, I think it's gotten better lately, more people willing to give students with heavy backpacks (like me!) a seat on the train. I think most of the time behaving nicely will do the trick. Can't do anything about the rude people except get as far away from them as possible, anyhow.

    Bob Levey: Amen to behaving nicely. What can it cost you? Would you rather be as surly as the surly person who snarls at you?

    Abilene Tx: How valid is the recent radio talk shows expressions of concern over the predictions that China is planning to invade Taiwan and Clinton's trip to China last year? Is there any truth to Clinton's not taking action against China if they do invade Taiwan as he does with Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc...??

    Bob Levey: I'd love to know how China is going to invade any country when its army has (relatively) very little equipment and very poor training.

    Washington, DC: Bob, What's the deal with the recent Greyhound-Peter Pan "merger"? Does this mean there's now a monopoly of say, bus trips to NY?

    Bob Levey: Apparently so. But I haven't heard any complaints--and I doubt that I will, as long as the fare stays around $30.

    Alexandria, VA: Bob: Back to the Wilbon column. Here are the facts.
    He wants the MCI Center provided free of charge. He wants corporations to kick in the cost of the tournament,
    The Washington Post, being one of them. Then he goes on to say there were at least 10 parties in Georgetown last night that cost more than $50,000.(cost of MCI Center).
    If that isn't putting the old hand out, I don't know what is.

    Bob Levey: That's not putting the hand out. That's putting the nudge out. Any columnist who says (in print) that his own employer should pony up money for any cause is a guy I admire--because the employer could easily say, "Hey, you know, Mike, we've thought about it, and you're right. We'll fire you, and pony up your former salary!"

    DC: What's being done to fix the conflicting street signs in DC? For example, at Mass and Wisconsin, there's a sign that says "Mass Avenue Traffic to Downtown, left at next intersection." But at the next intersection, no left turns are ever allowed!

    Bob Levey: Ah, well. Win some, lose some.

    Bob Levey: That's it for today. Many thanks for being with us. I'll be back next Friday, from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time, for another edition of "Levey Live: Speaking Freely." Please join us. And be sure to catch the Tuesday edition of "Levey Live," which appears from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. Our guest on Feb. 23 will be the new president of The University of Maryland, C. D. Mote.

    © 1998 The Washington Post Company

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