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    Levey Live: Speaking Freely

    "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," hosted by Washington Post daily 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 column, in the news or on your mind.

    Never fear, Levey is here – live online – his coffee pot bubbling merrily as he types to you from his palatial penthouse office high atop Babylon-on-the-Potomac.

    Herndon, Va.: Dear Bob, Here's the way I see the impeachment process playing out: The House narrowly approves an article of impeachment for perjury; the members get credit for their disapproval of immorality, knowing that the Senate will not convict; the Senate holds a distracting trial and comes nowhere near voting for removal from office. Is this your view of the likely outcome? Does the Republican congressional leadership see it this way? Will they do anything to avert such an outcome?

    Bob Levey: I see it playing almost exactly that way, and so does the Republican leadership. Remember that this isn't just about what happens to Clinton. It's about what will and won't happen at the polls in 2000. Every Republican in the House dreads casting a vote that will make him look "soft on Clinton" two years from now. Voting to impeach, knowing that the Senate won't remove, is a perfect way to blunt this possible charge.

    Falls Church, Va.: Comment: Bob, last December you gave a commentary on WTOP morning radio, in which you stated that – relative to the perennial nativity scene controversies – Christians should relegate their religious expressions to their churches and homes. I e-mailed you that that sounds like you advocate suppressing our faiths and beliefs to the point where we are virtually "closet" Christians (you did not respond to the e-mail). My bigger issue is that media professionals seem to have an overwhelmingly secularist orientation and only the most superficial familiarity of what faith is: how it defines a person, and how it must be lived out in daily life in various manifestations – not just practiced exclusively at home or in a house of worship. Only people of faith understand this; secularists do not. [edited for space]

    Bob Levey: I remember your e-mail and I did respond. Don't know why you didn't get my message. Perhaps cyber-sunspots? Anyway, I've always been against aggressively public displays of religion. I believe religion should be personal. It's a way to connect and reconnect with one's moral center, and it's best done quietly. If you want to be a Christian, you have every right to do so. But don't force me (or others) to say amen when you want the tools of your religion to sit on public space that's just as much ours as yours.

    Washington, D.C.: Were you surprised at all at the warm reception Anthony Williams got from Congress recently? Seems like this bodes well for D.C., no?

    Bob Levey: I wasn't surprised at all. He's smoother than people think. The Hill loves it when they deal with a no-surprise kind of guy. That's Tony. As for whether it bodes well, how could it bode badly? They came out of the meeting saying that Tony is a grown-up who ought to have the levers of power in his hands. That sounds pretty sweet to me.

    Silver Spring, Md.: My wife works for a major bookstore that has its employees use Social Security numbers as identifiers. She even has to give her number to other employees, like when she wants to buy a sandwich or a book. Isn't it illegal to use S.S. numbers for identification?

    Bob Levey: It certainly is. But the original intent of that language was to make it harder for federal investigators like FBI agents to snoop into your personal affairs. We can argue about whether it's pernicious for an employer to use an employee's Social Security number as an ID – and perhaps a public debate would be a good thing. But I'm afraid the battle is lost. My Social Security number is now in effect my national serial number, and so is yours. It's far too late to change that.

    Arlington, Va.: Regardless of your position on medical marijuana use in D.C., weren't you shocked that a couple of congressmen quashed a bona fide referendum in D.C.? Talk about the Last Colony...

    Bob Levey: Absolutely astonishing. But it's typical of the way the Hill views D.C. Those "stalwarts" will stick all sorts of trial balloons into bills (and onto policies) so D.C. becomes a political test kitchen. They'd never have the nerve to do it to a city in their home districts (or anywhere else).

    Martinsburg, W.Va.: Bob – Thanks for the open forum. What's your take on the perennial debate over expansion of the Wilson Bridge? I don't travel it every day anymore, but when in the area it is a nightmare!

    Bob Levey: There's not much choice about it. Either it gets rebuilt or we have a huge disaster on our hands when the current bridge literally drops into the Potomac from exhaustion. My major beef is that the bullet didn't get bitten 15 years ago. It was so easy to see traffic counts heading up and up. Why didn't Virginia settle the question then? Typical non-leadership by supposed leaders. Now the bridge will be rebuilt at the same time that the Springfield mixing bowl will be. My best advice: Stay in Martinsburg!

    Arlington, Va.: Bob,

    I'm a longtime reader of your column and I was excited when you went online. I know you have been a true supporter of good works in the Washington area and I'm wondering if you could make a plug for me...

    Please don't forget to Shop for Life this Saturday, December 5! Our 41 participating retailers will donate 5 percent of your purchases to NOVAM to help continue our HIV prevention programs and services for those living with AIDS. It's a great (and timely) way for you to support a good cause! For a list of retailers call (703) 739-2437.

    Thanks so much Bob!

    Gretchen Ebeler

    Bob Levey: Plug happily supplied. By the way, I know and have worked with NOVAM (it stands for Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry, gang). A class outfit.

    Warrenton, Va.: Bob, on an impeachment vote, I also feel the flip side of Democrats that vote against it is true. I wouldn't want to cast a vote effectively saying that perjury and possible obstruction of justice/witness tampering is OK. I voted for Bill Clinton and I am furious at how he has conducted himself. Not to mention the mockery he makes of the process.

    Bob Levey: Absolutely correct, and very shrewd of you to point this out. I'd hate to be a Democrat House member running in 2000. If you vote not to impeach, you will be painted as having voted to condone sex in White House hallways. I can hardly wait for the attack commercials!

    Mount Rainier, Md.: On the question of public displays of Christian symbols, prayers, etc., I agree with you, though maybe for different reasons. Your faith is part of who you are, private and public, and part of how you act, but one of the things I relish about this country is that no one religion should dominate our shared public life. I'm a devout Christian, and I am devoutly *against* prayer in school. That doesn't convert people to my way of thinking, it just makes them angry.

    Bob Levey: I also consider myself religious, and my family practices religion in our own way. But I would never demand that our religion be expressed in a public place just because it might be comfortable for us. Arrogant! It doesn't matter, either, whether my religion is in the majority or the minority. School is school, home is home. And the steps of a public building are the steps of a public building. Have all the creches you like, but have them in private places.

    Washington, D.C.: Bob, what are the fates of Norv Turner, Charley Casserly and the Redskins next year?

    Bob Levey: Norv: dust. Charley: dustier dust. Redskins: no better than this year.

    Bethesda, Md.: Do you think Anthony Williams and his cronies can be trusted to do right by the District? Isn't Congress placing way too much faith in an untested new regime? Shouldn't they have to prove themselves worthy of reclaiming home rule before placing the mantle of power back in the District building?

    Bob Levey: Williams may not be the smoothest creature on the planet, but there isn't the slightest reason to doubt his integrity. He'll TRY to do the right thing in D.C. But be careful that you're not expecting or demanding miracles. He is still badly hampered by the Hill, and the fact that he doesn't have absolute authority over much of anything. As for placing faith in him, what choice does Congress have? He's the elected mayor. As for D.C. proving itself worthy of reclaiming home rule, that kind of language sickens me. Do you in Bethesda have to prove yourself worthy of your basic American rights? No Washingtonian should have to prove a damn thing to any member of Congress. Washingtonians are just as American as they are, and their rights ought to be just as secure.

    Washington, D.C.: So is Tupac Shakur dead or alive? And should I care?

    Bob Levey: Very dead. No.
    Isn't it amazing how little some people have to do? The next thing you know, we'll be hearing that Lincoln is actually still alive, and that John Wilkes Booth is ready to apologize to him.

    Bob Levey: I'll be minding the cyber-store for another half an hour. Keep those questions coming.

    Washington, D.C.: Do you think height limits should be changed for the District? There was an article in The Post recently about this, suggesting that it might be a way to stimulate residential housing downtown.

    Bob Levey: The whole purpose of a height limit was to preserve the beauty of short, squat national symbols like the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. I don't think a 25-story building would necessarily be ugly, or would necessarily detract from Jefferson and Lincoln. In its own way, the Empire State Building is beautiful. So is the TransAmerica Building in San Francisco.

    McLean, Va.: On the impeachment vote, can you interpret a vote against impeachment as standing up against the school yard bully?
    Case in point: Espy 30, Smaltz 0.

    Bob Levey: Not really, because everyone knows that the independent counsel statute will come up for renewal soon. THAT's the time to throw a right cross at the bully.

    McLean, Va.: Speaking of the District, I once heard that residents there cannot vote in national elections. Is that true, or was my leg pulled?

    Bob Levey: D.C. residents have been able to vote for President since 1964. Of course, as you may have heard, the country has existed since 1776. What happened for the first 188 years? Taxation without representation might be one way to put it.

    Washington, D.C.: Dear Bob:

    What's your take on the controversy in Rockville concerning the mayor's stance against people (some of who are mentally challenged) walking up and down Rockville Pike with "sandwich signs" for various businesses along the pike? The mayor (Rose Krasnow, I believe) feels that the sight of people as human billboards would tend to cheapen the look of the pike.
    Let's face it – the pike is no Rodeo Drive, or even Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy and Bethesda, although it would like to be. [Edited for space] At the same time, I am concerned for the sign walkers' safety, with all the nudniks driving on the pike. They do need the work, but I wonder if there is a better way.


    Bob Levey: Would the mayor of Rockville rather see retail establishments go out of business because they couldn't or didn't attract customers? What in the world could be wrong with a walking ad? It's a lot better than a billboard. As for the safety of the sandwich-board toters, it's probably something we and they will just have to live with (no pun intended).

    Richmond, Calif.: Bob – What do you think of the FBI keeping a d[ata]base on the legal people that buy weapons (not just the ones who are not allowed)?

    Bob Levey: Worries me a whole bunch. See previous answer on Social Security numbers.

    Arlington, Va.: Do you think shooting John Glenn into space was just a NASA publicity stunt? If not, what good came out of sending him aloft – at a huge expense, by the way.

    Bob Levey: The Glenn shot got mega-publicity, obviously, but that doesn't mean there was anything insincere about the Glenn mission. NASA says it was seriously trying to conduct experiments into effect of space travel on elderly bodies. Why not use his?

    Falls Church, Va.: For gods sake, no! changing the height restriction in D.C. would ruin the city! Well, I think so, anyway. I think the city is the loveliest in the U.S. because you can actually see the sky when you look up. You can see for miles at the tower of the National Cathedral... I work in D.C., I love this city, I would hate to see it transformed into a concrete and steel jungle gym. I think a change like that would ruin so much of the beauty of the city.

    Bob Levey: But just down the road from Falls Church, and right across the river from Georgetown, you have about 25 typical "functional" high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn. Beautiful, they ain't. So it's not as if the actual D.C. skyline is pure and pristine. In fact, even an eight-story building (such as those in downtown D.C.) casts a shadow. For example, go downtown sometime and see how the office buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th Street cast a shadow across the Old Post Office. I see your point, but let's not be naive.

    Alexandria, Va.: So, why did the Post waste all that space in today's paper to feature Tupac Shakur? Must be a real slow news day.

    Bob Levey: Well, Henry Hyde didn't commit any youthful indiscretions yesterday. Just a couple of political ones.

    Washington, D.C.: Can you judge from your mail or phone calls whether the city has actually cut back on the number of parking tickets it issues? Of course, this has always been the one thing D.C. did really efficiently...

    Bob Levey: Can't offer any reliable sense of this. I always hear about parking tickets, regardless of the year, regardless of the season.

    Washington, D.C.: I once heard a proposal attributed to D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton that would call for the District of Columbia to become a commonwealth. As such, we get no voting representation in Congress, but we residents don't have to pay federal income taxes. Sounds like a good idea on paper that can draw people back to the city. I doubt this would happen any time soon, but what do you think about the merits of this idea?

    Bob Levey: Her proposal attracted some Republican interest back in, I believe, 1994, but it hasn't gone anywhere since. The main reason is that most D.C. residents don't see what commonwealth status would mean for them (the answer appears to be: not much). The idea would be to re-attract businesses and families to the city by giving them tax breaks. But it isn't at all clear that those who never left would enjoy the same benefits.

    Wheaton, Md.: Do you really have a penthouse office? Must be nice. What do you see when you look out the window?

    Bob Levey: That's just some horrendous hyperbolic prose. I labor on the fifth floor of the Post's downtown headquarters, the same floor that the rest of the news rats inhabit. If there's a penthouse in this building, I've never seen it, and I sure as heck don't live in it. As for what I see when I look out the window, I'll put it this way: I often call my wife in the late afternoon. She'll say something like, "Gee, the rain has really been awful." And I'll say, "What rain?"
    In other words, my office window looks suspiciously like a wall.

    Washington, D.C.: I'm constantly amazed by how many people are insensitive to deaf people in the district, and how many (even at other universities in the area!) truly don't realize that there's a university composed of a deaf student body near Union Station, Gallaudet University. And this after the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement in 1988 that garnered such national attention. Why is there such a lack of knowledge among residents about this?

    Bob Levey: Probably it's because the Gallaudet student body isn't anywhere near the size of Howard, Maryland, GW, Catholic, Georgetown or any of 30 high schools. But it's also because many deaf people don't want to call attention to their deafness, because they're afraid it'll make it look as if they're hoping for favors. They'd rather make it in the world "straight up," and I salute them for trying.

    washington: How on earth do you write five columns a week, do two of these web appearances and raise dough for Children's Hospital? Do you have any life besides work, Bob?

    Bob Levey: Hey, you forgot two WTOP radio commentaries a week (I have to get up at 5 a.m. to do them), and speeches all over the country, and membership on five national boards (president of one), and studio work as a commercial voice talent. I am definitely a busy beaver. But my wife and kids are the best piece(s) of my harried existence. If I weren't a soccer mom and a stage-door Annie and a hubby who actually remembered his wife's birthday yesterday, I wouldn't feel that any of the rest of it made a bit of difference

    Falls Church, Va.: Do you think, given all the bad press, that Al Gore has any chance to be president? Or do you think Americans have had enough of the Clinton White House and will vote in a Republican this time or even – is it possible? – an independent?

    Bob Levey: I think Gore has an excellent chance. No one sees him as being joined to Clinton at the hip. He has been an over-dutiful No. 2, perhaps, but all veeps are. And he should never have made those calls from inside the White House. But does he have the vision and the experience and the skill? I think the answer is clearly yes.

    Bob Levey: That's it for today. Join us next Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time for another episode of "Levey Live: Speaking Freely." And be sure to join us on Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time for the regular edition of "Levey Live." Our topic for Tuesday, Dec. 8, will be impeachment and the final stages of the House Judiciary Committee investigation.

    © 1998 The Washington Post Company

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