Really, who could blame President Bush for being a bit flummoxed by the query?

At a town-hall meeting in Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday, a questioner pressed the president about why the United States does not pay a “statutory royalty” to performing artists for airplay.

This is Bush’s reply, verbatim:

“Help. Maybe you’ve never had a president say this — I have, like, no earthly idea what you’re talking about,” Bush said, to laughter and applause.

“Look, I’ll give you the old classic: Contact my office, will you?” Bush continued. “I’m totally out of my lane. I like listening to country music, if that helps.”

When the 17th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act arrives July 26, it will find 51.2 million Americans with some level of physical or other disability and an unknown number of them having been crime victims.

The National Council on Disability says one study found that more than 25 percent of those with severe mental illness have been victimized — a rate more than 11 times higher than that of the general population.

The disability group and the National Center for Victims of Crime are calling for definitive studies to determine how often, how and where criminals are preying on disabled people.

There’s a nasty trend building on the streets of America, where the number of law-enforcement officers killed in the line of duty is on a steep trajectory this year. More than 100 officers have been killed in the first six months of 2007, which is the first time in 30 years so many have died in that span. In the first half of last year, 70 lost their lives.

One reason: a spike in traffic-related incidents. This year, 45 have died in automobile and motorcycle crashes, or have been struck and killed while outside their police cars. Last year at this time, 33 had died that way.

More officers are also dying from gunfire. At last year’s midpoint, 27 had been shot to death, compared to 39 this year.

The downside of the transformation of America’s troops into a high-tech force is the 40 pounds of batteries and chargers some soldiers have to hump with them on a four-day mission in the field. The radios, night-vision devices, global positioning systems, laptops and other gear are standard issue and dependent on a lot of juice.

So the Pentagon is holding a contest — with three prizes worth a total of $1.75 million — to come up with batteries, etc., that will weigh at least half that, while still able to power the devices for four days continuously.

Anyone can enter. Check out for details.

There may be a lame duck in the White House, but the outdoors is home to a growing flock of healthy ones. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the wild-duck population has soared to more than 41 million birds this year, a full 14 percent more than last.

The annual survey suggests the growth is due to better available habitats, including a 15 percent increase in the number of ponds and abundant precipitation in the Dakotas.

Where are they now?

— Ousted Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, 75, is creating a foundation that will be devoted to bringing bright minds to public service. To be financed solely by his own money, the foundation would issue grants to graduate and postgraduate scholars who want to contribute to public policy. He also is mulling writing a book.

— Consumer watchdog — and erstwhile presidential candidate — Ralph Nader has turned his energies lately to the D.C. Library Renaissance Project, which he founded to save Washington’s deteriorating public libraries. Though he coyly suggested months ago that he might enter the 2008 presidential race, Nader, 73, has since demonstrated no inclination to do so.

(Lisa Hoffman may be reached at hoffmanl(at) Scripps Howard News Service correspondent Michael Collins contributed to this column.)

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