Tilted scales

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Penn.) learned a hard lesson about the pursuit of justice in the time of war.

First, the congressman met for 2½ hours with an unnamed soldier from a military unit assigned to the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. The congressman vowed after the meeting that those Americans responsible for abusive acts against Iraqi prisoners, no matter how high up in rank, would receive due punishment in the court of law.

Then, a short time later, Weldon received tragic news that one of his neighbors, Nick Berg, who lived less than 15 minutes from the congressman's home, was, as he put it, "brutalized in the most unbelievable way imaginable by those same people over in Iraq who expect us to treat those perpetrators of crimes in the prison with justice."

COURTING HISPANICS

Both major political parties anxiously await Hispanic voter projections for the 2004 presidential election, to be showcased next week in Washington by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Hispanics are the second-largest population group in the country, making up 5.4 percent of the total electorate in the 2000 presidential election. The association says they are poised to play a "critical role" in determining the next U.S. president.

The group, we're told, will release a national projection, as well as Hispanic voting preferences in key states with significant populations of that community, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and New Mexico. Both parties continue to work overtime to attract the vote.

It's no irony that the Hispanic governor of New Mexico, Clinton administration Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, is among the frequently named contenders to become the running mate of likely Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

President Bush, meanwhile, enjoys strong Hispanic support in his home state, Texas, as well as among Cuban Americans in Florida, where brother Jeb Bush is governor.

NO NOSE FOR NEWS

President Bush is no news junkie, or so he informs Washington Times senior White House correspondent Bill Sammon.

"I don't watch the nightly newscasts on TV, nor do I watch the endless hours of people giving their opinion about things," Bush says in one of several intriguing chapters of Sammon's new book, "Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters."

"I don't read the editorial pages; I don't read the columnists," Bush says.

In fact, the president says he gets his unofficial news by "scanning" four morning papers: "I get the newspapers - the New York Times, The Washington Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today - those are the four papers delivered."

FAT GUYS

Borrowing from the title of Bravo channel's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals presents "Veg Eye for the Fat Guy."

PETA's new vegetarian campaign targets a group of popular but portly celebrities, including "American Idol" star Ruben Studdard, sportscaster John Madden, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and actor John Goodman.

Each celebrity will receive a vegetarian starter kit and PETA cookbook.

SMOKE OR SUFFER

As states including Maryland and Virginia consider passing stricter smoking laws, the New York State Conservative Party is urging all 212 members of that state's Legislature to amend New York's "onerous" smoking ban in all buildings, saying it has caused severe financial losses for businesses, some of which have been forced to close.

"New York's government must resist the need to be our nanny," the conservatives say in a joint statement.

PAINESVILLE PYRAMID

It took more than a decade to build, but the Pyramid of Remembrance has risen in Arlington National Cemetery - and U.S. taxpayers didn't pay a dime.

Along with the rest of America in October 1993, a group of high school students in Painesville, Ohio, watched in horror as the lifeless body of a U.S. soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia.

As recalled by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), the students were concerned that there was no memorial in Washington to honor members of the armed forces whose lives were lost during such "peacekeeping" missions, as well as military casualties of humanitarian and covert operations, terrorist attacks, and training.

So, the students of Painesville not only proposed such a memorial, which was revealed this week, but also raised all the money for its construction, a good chunk of it donated by Painesville's residents.

FRANK RACE

It's official: There will be a race in Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District pitting incumbent Democratic Rep. Barney Frank against "conservative independent" Chuck Morse.

The Massachusetts Secretary of State's Office certified this week that Morse has obtained the required number of signatures to appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.

"All America will be watching this race because it pits the ultraliberal incumbent against a genuine conservative," Morse tells us. "I'm running a campaign that showcases family values and the need for leadership that honors them."

As for running as an independent, Morse says: "I fully expect that the friends I've made in Republican circles will retain interest in my candidacy, and as the campaign progresses unenrolled voters will support me in sufficient numbers to make this a very competitive election."

Morse is the only challenger to Frank, who's serving his 12th term in Congress.

WHALE OF A JOB

 "If we want to save the whales, we call the Democrats. If we want to save the world, we call the Republicans." -- Tom Adkins, founder of CommonConservative.com, when asked this week by Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto of "Cavuto on Business" whether Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should stay or go.

ALLEY OF ELMS

Of his much-anticipated plans to resurrect the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Ave., renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh pledges in the June issue of Architectural Digest: "I want to bring dignity and civic appropriateness back to the front of the White House."

While working in Washington more than 30 years ago, Van Valkenburgh recalls being "stunned" by the beauty of the avenue showcasing the White House.

"The place was so grand, so elegant, so presidential," he tells the magazine.

Then came the Oklahoma City bombing, leaving President Clinton little choice but to close "the nation's main street" between 15th and 17th streets, making it a "militarized zone," writes Christopher Petkanas.

Soon, large granite blocks and heavy steel bollards will deny vehicular access to the architect's restored avenue, its surface transformed into a pedestrian-friendly aggregate pavement, the entire stretch shadowed by "a simple alley of American elms, a break in the trees preserving the famous perspective of the White House."