The week (April 21st): Nobody asked me, but…

Washington, D.C. edition

With apologies to New York tabloid legend Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

THE NATION'S CAPITAL never looked better (at least not to this observer) in the soft, rosy twilight of mid-April…as the Herblock Foundation honored cartoonist Jeff Danziger in a ceremony at the Library of Congress, and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned of assaults on judicial independence in her witty and warmly-received Herblock Foundation Annual Lecture.

In his brief comments, Danziger mentioned the tragic consequences of the Danish publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, including the loss of life in riots in the Islamic world. In the West, it's a free speech issue that will not go away. What is troubling are attempts to censor or suppress access to the cartoons in the United States, especially in colleges and universities, where open discussion and debate should be encouraged. College administrators have moved for suppression on the grounds of respecting Islam, but, as First Amendment watchdog Nat Hentoff argues in USA Today, there is no "constitutional right not to be offended."

SEVERAL LONG-TIME REPUBLICANS in Washington openly expressed their concern to me about the meltdown of Katherine Harris's U.S. Senate campaign in Florida, and the potential for a Bill Nelson blow-out victory that would make the Democratic victor and former astronaut a potential 2008 vice presidential pick for Hillary Clinton. This GOP nightmare scenario has Senator Clinton easily holding the 16 blue states and picking up Florida because of Nelson's popularity and campaigning by former President Clinton aimed at African-Americans and the elderly.

THE DARK, TWISTED SIDE of the blogosphere has been on display in recent racist and misogynist Web attacks on blogger Michelle Malkin. The conservative Malkin has become a target for some on the fringe Left in a dispute over recent demonstrations at UC Santa Cruz against military recruiters. To her credit Malkin isn't backing down, and she has posted some of the particularly vile emails she has received (warning: these contain racial and sexual slurs.) What is bizarre is the nature of the name-calling–considering most on the Left denounce racism and sexism. There should be no place in the ongoing American political discussion for those who employ such despicable "hate-speech."

A WINNING POPULIST theme that few candidates seem to want to touch: the outrageous levels of CEO compensation that continue to be forked over to (largely) underperforming business leaders. USA Today notes: "At least a dozen chief executive officers received $100 million or more last year as part of an overall surge in pay that began in the 1990s. In 2005, the median package among the nation's 100 largest companies soared 25% to $17.9 million, dwarfing the 3.1% average gain by typical U.S. workers." Since the boards of directors in question can't, or won't, exercise discipline over compensation, calling for federal curbs would seem logical, and a clear vote-getter–except too many candidates–Democrats and Republicans–are beholden to corporate campaign contributions.

INTRIGUING REPORT by Bill Gertz on CIA open source intelligence efforts in the Washington Times ("CIA mines 'rich' content from blogs") suggests that the revolutionary impact of the Web on the collection and distribution of information is not being slighted. Some, like former CIA agent Robert David Steele, are arguing for Web-enabled "citizen intelligence collectors"–the counterpart of citizen journalists–but too Big Brother for my tastes.

Meanwhile, the political battles over intelligence continue. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte faces concerns that he has become just another bureaucratic layer, not the solution, to American intelligence (his staff is twice its originally projected size). There's also harsh criticism of the CIA from those, like Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who argue that director Porter Goss has created a politicized and demoralized organization under the guise of reform. The vital question is whether Goss' house-cleaning removed incompetent managers or targeted anti-Iraq war officials. Considering the open failures of George Tenet's CIA, what new director wouldn't look for a shake-up, new management and new ideas? You also have to be somewhat skeptical about Ignatius' CIA Old Guard sources, who have reason to be defensive about their stewardship of American intelligence both pre- and post- 9/11.

IT'S NO MYTH that America's boys are struggling academically; more proof came this week from the Manhattan Institute, as reported in the New York Times: "Boys Are No Match for Girls in Completing High School." Federal, state and local educational policies need to address this crisis, and the first step is to move beyond denial and admit there's something wrong in the way we are preparing young men for the challenges of a global future.

TWO SENATE RACES to watch with national implications: Virginia and New Jersey. If N.J. Republican Tom Kean, Jr. defeats "incumbent" Bob Menendez (appointed to the seat by his Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine), and Kean seems to building a lead, watch for his name to surface in 2012 as a national GOP candidate who could compete in Blue states as well as Red.

In Virginia, former Secretary of the Navy James Webb has to survive a Democratic primary (which he should) before taking on incumbent George Allen. While some conservative Republicans see Allen as a potential 2008 alternative to John McCain, Reagan Democrat Webb has a shot at upsetting him. While the genial Allen remains popular, he is positioned as a Bush loyalist on the Iraq war and he has not hidden his boredom with his Senate duties. Most importantly, Allen can't count on the "good old boy" vote against Vietnam veteran and tough-guy Webb. (And when Allen resorts to his favorite football metaphors, count on someone in the Webb campaign to point out that the only University of Virginia record former QB Allen holds is for most interceptions in a game).

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS just won't let go of the idea that Saddam's regime was looking to acquire nuclear capabilities for Iraq, and his considerable scorn is directed this week at Ambassador Joe Wilson of Niger yellowcake fame. Hitchens keeps asking for someone to prove him wrong. So far, no takers.

HEAVILY EMAILED by Washington Post readers this week: Ruth Marcus's version of George W.'s farewell memo to the Bush twins. And why not: it certainly made me laugh out loud!

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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