Close, but ...

It's Thursday evening in Trinidad, Cuba, and Fidel Castro has a captive audience. In house after house on the cobblestoned main street of this river town 200 miles southeast of Havana, the image of El Comandante flickers from Soviet-era TV sets. Of course, it's hard not to score high ratings when your country has only two TV stations, both of them state-run, and the neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution keeps watch on who's tuning in and who isn't.

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The 9/11 Commission was "set up to fail." So says its chairman, former Republican Governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean. "If you want something to fail," he explains, "you take a controversial topic and appoint five people from each party. You make sure they are appointed by the most partisan people from each party--the leaders of the party. And, just to be sure, let's ask the commission to finish the report during the most partisan period of time--the presidential election season." He could have added that President Bush and Republican leaders in Congress had agreed to create the commission onl

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The most telling moment of last night's conservative salute to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay at the Capital Hilton in Washington came just after dinner. A "dessert surprise" had been promised in the program, and sure enough, once the waiters had shuffled off with the last of the dinner plates and the depleted bottles of wine, the lights dimmed. Right on cue a bluegrass band struck up the opening chords to "If I Had a Hammer," a nod to DeLay's nickname.

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Home Page

The Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) sits on a narrow, triangular plot at the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and First Street, just a few blocks northwest of the Capitol. Completed in October, the twelve-story tower is wrapped in a curtain of blue-green glass; standing across the street, one notices less the building than the sharpness with which it reflects its surroundings. And it is so narrow that, looking back at it from the intersection of New Jersey and Massachusetts Avenues, a few blocks north, one barely notices anything at all.

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Notebook

PATRIOT GAMES Early this month, when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took his case for renewing several provisions of the Patriot Act before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his interlocutors were not wholly convinced. Naturally, the newly confirmed A.G. turned on the charm. He even injected some rhetorical flourish in defending a few particularly controversial provisions of the Act, which the Justice Department admitted it had never actually had occasion to use. "It's comparable to a police officer who carries a gun for 15 years and never draws it.

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EARLIER THIS YEAR, when Bill Frist invoked some grainy video footage and his cardiology training to overturn the prevailing medical consensus about Terri Schiavo's brain, we marveled at the specimen housed within the Senate majority leader's own cranium--a mind at once cynical and craven, and with the capacity for ever-greater feats of cravenness and cynicism in his quest for the GOP's 2008 presidential nomination. Frist has not disappointed. Last Thursday, the venerable Tennessee senator announced that he would participate in an upcoming Family Research Council event called Justice Sunday.

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Provinciality cuts both ways. I know this because, twice a week, I commute from western Virginia, in the heart of red America, to Washington, D.C., one of the bluest spots on the map. The trip takes three hours in both directions, brief as far as interplanetary travel goes. But the drive home illuminates plenty of cultural terrain.

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ON A RECENT Saturday morning, President Álvaro Uribe held the Colombian equivalent of a town-hall meeting in Málaga, Santander Province. Tieless in a casual plaid shirt and standing before a gigantic seal of Colombia, Uribe praised the locals for their generous hospitality that "increases our love for the great Colombian people" and then lauded Málaga's efficient new airport. After a brief speech, Uribe introduced Transportation Minister Andrés Gallego to the crowded room.

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Correspondence

BAD MEDICINE Arnold S. Relman says our current health care system is in critical condition ("The Health of Nations," March 7). Unfortunately, his article failed in both its diagnosis and its prescription. He critiques the deficiencies in our system but proposes a utopian solution that could never exist. Although his model has been attempted and is currently in place in Canada, he neglects to examine its real world results. In Canada, my home country, patients must wait months for procedures that are available in days in the United States, thanks to Canada's single-payer system.

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Benedictus

SHORTLY BEFORE NOON on the day that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, I was standing in St. Peter's Square with a smart young Carmelite priest from Ireland. We were watching black smoke pour out of what, for a few days at least, was the most famous chimney in the world. That meant no Pope, yet. By chance, or perhaps thanks to the Holy Spirit's intervention, Father Simon Nolan was just the kind of Catholic who could give me faith in the Church's future. He is a philosopher who studies medieval topics, and he was orthodox, warm, and open.

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