By Jefferson Flanders
As newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon used to say: Nobody asked me, but…

KUDOS TO WALDO PROFFITT, former editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, still sharp as a tack entering (by my rough-and-ready count) his sixth decade of newspapering; his column on the upcoming Florida-Ohio State national championship football game showcases his uncommon sense, while including a few zingers about the state of collegiate athletics:

…when watching college football, I sometimes recall the remark by a president of the University of Oklahoma, a perennial powerhouse. He said something like this: “I am pleased to be able to report we have a university of which our football team can be justly proud.”

And I ponder the idea that if university presidents, and boards of trustees and state legislators seriously wanted to end the hypocrisy, they could establish within the college an academic department of athletics in which students could spend the whole academic year playing their favorite sport, with classes in sports finance, sports language, sports ethics, sports history, sports medicine and other aspects of the sports world, and maybe graduate in four years with a degree indicating they had learned something useful for their future careers.

Proffitt is no killjoy, however, closing his Sunday Herald Tribune column with: “Go Gators!!!!” (That’s four exclamation points, for those counting).

JOHN NEGROPONTE’S SUDDEN DEPARTURE as Director of National Intelligence (DNI) proves, among other things, that bureaucratic insiders make unlikely reformers. While we are told that there is now more collaboration among the agencies, Negroponte’s chief accomplishment appears to be the rapid construction of another centralized bureaucracy, more than 1,000 strong, if we believe published reports, centered in Washington.

The DNI position was, according to the 9/11 Commission, meant to oversee and improve intelligence integration. Instead, it has meant centralization for centralization’s sake. For the Washington Establishment there’s something very comforting about the idea of a Big Daddy (remember that a Drug Czar was going to win the War on Drugs?).

The problem, of course, is that American intelligence failures can be attributed as much to centralized groupthink as to the problem of feuding agencies. The much-maligned ex-director of CIA, Porter Goss, had identified overdue reforms in other areas: an expansion of human intelligence (humint), more Arabic speakers, more feet on the ground in the Middle East and South Asia. Goss argued, correctly I think, for a more flexible, decentralized and networked approach to assessing the intentions of our 21st century adversaries.

Adding thousands of analysts in Washington—and additional layers of oversight—may be comforting to Beltway types (and raise real estate prices in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs), but it fails to address these key needs.

Negroponte, and his hand-picked CIA director, Michael V. Hayden, have worked the media doggedly (this fawning profile of Hayden by the Washington Post‘s Walter Pincus is a prime example), but they haven’t addressed these structural issues. Hayden has apparently thrown in his lot with the CIA’s permanent bureaucracy—sidestepping any institutional reform.

And Negroponte’s move to the State Department, and the appointment of his successor, retired Navy Admiral Mike McConnell, means that former military men now run the three top American intelligence agencies (DCI, CIA, and NSA). Groupthink, anyone?

TWO CHEERS FOR THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE for voting on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage—as they were constitutionally-bound to do—but only two cheers, because they avoided voting on a universal health care amendment that required the same legislative consideration. The marriage amendment received 62 votes (more than the 50 needed to keep the ballot initiative alive until the next session), and could reach the ballot in 2008.

Some same-sex marriage defenders have argued that any popular vote on the “civil rights of a minority” is not only wrong, but immoral. Yet all societies legislate “civil rights” when it comes to marriage—whether it is setting an age of consent, or limiting the number people you can marry, or establishing guidelines for divorce or separation. Letting voters decide on these matters is just as legitimate as having judges make the call.

My guess is that if it reaches the ballot, Massachusetts voters will vote down the amendment—accurately reflecting the attitudes of the majority towards same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth. And as the New Republic‘s Benjamin Wittes points out: “supporters of gay marriage have no choice in the long run but to persuade their fellow citizens. At some point, in other words, they have to start winning referenda. One of the country’s most liberal states, having had the benefit of several years of marriage equality to raise public comfort with it, is a good place to start.”
SHAWN MACOMBER’S AMERICAN SPECTATOR PIECE ON JOHN EDWARDS, Democratic presidential hopeful, notes some contradictions in Edwards’ foreign policy pronouncements: the former North Carolina Senator calls for American intervention in the Sudan and tough action on North Korea and Iran, but backs a retreat from Iraq. Macomber comments: “Principled military isolationism is fine, admirable, even. Attempting to build both national security and anti-war credentials simultaneously by abandoning one partisan intervention for another is grossly inhumane.”

IT SEEMS FITTING TO CLOSE THIS FIRST COLUMN of the New Year with Nelson Algren’s timeless advice: “Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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