Commentary Magazine


Topic: Las Vegas

My Week in Vegas With Wounded Troops

Since 2001, there have been 48,083 American service members wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. Unfortunately, many Americans hear very little about them. When the national media broaches the issue, it’s often in terms of statistics and connected to some sort of domestic challenge or burden: the high veteran unemployment, the cost of treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or the military suicide epidemic.

At times, wounded warriors have been exploited for political agendas; they’re often used as props by the anti-war movement, which has characterized them as victims of imperialist U.S. government foreign policy. And while politicians love to tout their appreciation for veterans, they often gloss over the deeper challenges the wounded face after they return home.

There are a few reasons for the disconnect. For one, the all-volunteer military means that wide swaths of America have little interaction with service members in general, let alone wounded soldiers. And their injuries can sometimes be emotionally difficult to deal with. Wounded warriors represent both the horrors of war and the valor, and when they return home they force us to confront both. It’s impossible to see a 22-year-old confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life and hold a romanticized view of war. And it’s impossible to listen to the story of how he got there and not be left humbled by his sacrifice.

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Since 2001, there have been 48,083 American service members wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. Unfortunately, many Americans hear very little about them. When the national media broaches the issue, it’s often in terms of statistics and connected to some sort of domestic challenge or burden: the high veteran unemployment, the cost of treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or the military suicide epidemic.

At times, wounded warriors have been exploited for political agendas; they’re often used as props by the anti-war movement, which has characterized them as victims of imperialist U.S. government foreign policy. And while politicians love to tout their appreciation for veterans, they often gloss over the deeper challenges the wounded face after they return home.

There are a few reasons for the disconnect. For one, the all-volunteer military means that wide swaths of America have little interaction with service members in general, let alone wounded soldiers. And their injuries can sometimes be emotionally difficult to deal with. Wounded warriors represent both the horrors of war and the valor, and when they return home they force us to confront both. It’s impossible to see a 22-year-old confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life and hold a romanticized view of war. And it’s impossible to listen to the story of how he got there and not be left humbled by his sacrifice.

I was able to spend last week with a group of 40 wounded warriors who served in Afghanistan and Iraq at a Salute the Troops event at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas. What struck me at the beginning was how young some of them looked and how candid they were about their experiences: what it was like to suffer the loss of legs or arms, or permanent control of bladder and bowels; what it felt like to inhale the fire from a suicide bomb or to step on an IED plate; and the sense of guilt some felt because they were unable to go back and continue fighting alongside their friends.

But, for the most part, they didn’t dwell on their injuries. They spent the week hanging out at poolside cabanas, at the hotel sports bar, playing poker and dancing at the nightclubs. They joked around with each other, talked about sports, and commiserated over military hospital bureaucracy.

The four-day event was organized by the Armed Forces Foundation and sponsored by Southwest Airlines, Omaha Steaks and the Palazzo Hotel (which also paid for my trip). Three other bloggers, VodkaPundit, BlackFive’s Bruce McQuain, and Kristle Helmuth, were also on the trip (and I highly recommend reading their coverage as well).

The annual event was the brainchild of AFF founder Patricia Driscoll and billionaire casino mogul and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is someone even prominent politicians have a hard time securing meetings with, but he dropped by for dinner with the wounded warriors every night of the trip, often working the room on his motorized scooter.

“There’s one thing I know,” he told the group in a speech on Friday night. “When you volunteer, you don’t lead from behind. So you guys carry a sense of patriotism that is unbounded…You’re protecting us, and that’s something we can’t thank you enough [for].”

Over this Memorial Day weekend, I will share the stories of three of the wounded warriors I interviewed last week. I hope it will provide some insight into what they experienced in combat and what they’re struggling with and looking forward to as they transition out of military hospitals and return home.

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Enthusiasm Not Absent for GOP

Two reports suggest that the enthusiasm gap remains a problem for the Democrats.

From Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania voters have requested nearly 127,000 absentee ballots so far. Of that total, Republican voters made up 50 percent and Democrats made up 42 percent, according to figures collected Tuesday afternoon.

The state records show Republicans are returning their absentee ballots in greater numbers as well. The state has received about 40 percent of requested ballots, and Republican registrations outpace Democrats by 19 points, 56 percent to 37 percent, according to the state data. Absentee ballots made up 5 percent of total turnout in 2008.

In Colorado:

The Colorado Secretary of State has released the first glimpse of early voting turnout from a combination of mail-in balloting and early voting centers. Republicans have an early partisan lead of just over 10,000 votes, 81,545 to 71,325. A total of 195,283 votes have been cast in the eight days since ballots were mailed and three days early voting has been available.

We’ve already seen the phenomenon at work in Nevada: “For Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who is locked in a slugfest with tea-party favorite Sharron Angle, the early results appear to be discouraging. In Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, 52% of the early vote in 2008 came from Democrats, while 30.6% came from Republicans. So far this year, the Democratic edge is narrower, 46.4% to 38.2%.”

To be sure, these are small slices of the electorate. Especially in Senate races, many contests will be close. But at least for now, the polls showing a substantial enthusiasm gap seem to be on the money.

Two reports suggest that the enthusiasm gap remains a problem for the Democrats.

From Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania voters have requested nearly 127,000 absentee ballots so far. Of that total, Republican voters made up 50 percent and Democrats made up 42 percent, according to figures collected Tuesday afternoon.

The state records show Republicans are returning their absentee ballots in greater numbers as well. The state has received about 40 percent of requested ballots, and Republican registrations outpace Democrats by 19 points, 56 percent to 37 percent, according to the state data. Absentee ballots made up 5 percent of total turnout in 2008.

In Colorado:

The Colorado Secretary of State has released the first glimpse of early voting turnout from a combination of mail-in balloting and early voting centers. Republicans have an early partisan lead of just over 10,000 votes, 81,545 to 71,325. A total of 195,283 votes have been cast in the eight days since ballots were mailed and three days early voting has been available.

We’ve already seen the phenomenon at work in Nevada: “For Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who is locked in a slugfest with tea-party favorite Sharron Angle, the early results appear to be discouraging. In Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, 52% of the early vote in 2008 came from Democrats, while 30.6% came from Republicans. So far this year, the Democratic edge is narrower, 46.4% to 38.2%.”

To be sure, these are small slices of the electorate. Especially in Senate races, many contests will be close. But at least for now, the polls showing a substantial enthusiasm gap seem to be on the money.

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GOP Turnout

If you are tired of obsessing about polls and dissecting turnout models, here are some actual votes to pore over:

In Nevada’s prime swing county, Republicans are significantly outpacing Democrats in early-voting turnout, according to official statistics — a potential sign of difficulty for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he attempts to rally his base for his tough contest with Republican Sharron Angle.

Some 47 percent of early voters in Reno’s bellwether Washoe County so far have been Republicans, while 40 percent have been Democrats, according to the Washoe County Registrar. Nearly 11,000 people had voted in Washoe over the first three days of early voting, which began Saturday.

Voter registration in the county is evenly split, 39 percent to 39 percent. The disproportionate turnout is a concrete indication of the Republican enthusiasm that is expected to portend a nationwide GOP wave.

In Nevada’s large, urban Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, nearly 47,000 votes were cast in the first three days. The voters were 46 percent Democrats, 39 percent Republicans, according to the Clark County Election Department. But while Democrats make up 46 percent of the county’s registered voters, Republicans constitute just 33 percent — another sign Republicans are voting out of proportion to their numbers.

Throughout the primary season, GOP turnout topped past records and current estimates in many states. If this is any indication, the GOP enthusiasm will hold during the general election. The result may be a raft of pollsters who, quite understandably, will need to explain that they underestimated the Republican turnout because we simply have never had a midterm race like that. I’m sure Harry Reid hasn’t.

If you are tired of obsessing about polls and dissecting turnout models, here are some actual votes to pore over:

In Nevada’s prime swing county, Republicans are significantly outpacing Democrats in early-voting turnout, according to official statistics — a potential sign of difficulty for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he attempts to rally his base for his tough contest with Republican Sharron Angle.

Some 47 percent of early voters in Reno’s bellwether Washoe County so far have been Republicans, while 40 percent have been Democrats, according to the Washoe County Registrar. Nearly 11,000 people had voted in Washoe over the first three days of early voting, which began Saturday.

Voter registration in the county is evenly split, 39 percent to 39 percent. The disproportionate turnout is a concrete indication of the Republican enthusiasm that is expected to portend a nationwide GOP wave.

In Nevada’s large, urban Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, nearly 47,000 votes were cast in the first three days. The voters were 46 percent Democrats, 39 percent Republicans, according to the Clark County Election Department. But while Democrats make up 46 percent of the county’s registered voters, Republicans constitute just 33 percent — another sign Republicans are voting out of proportion to their numbers.

Throughout the primary season, GOP turnout topped past records and current estimates in many states. If this is any indication, the GOP enthusiasm will hold during the general election. The result may be a raft of pollsters who, quite understandably, will need to explain that they underestimated the Republican turnout because we simply have never had a midterm race like that. I’m sure Harry Reid hasn’t.

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RE: Give Americans a Break Already

Aside from statistical data, there is a body of compelling anecdotal evidence that American Muslims really aren’t under siege at all. For example, CNN reports:

Far from the media frenzy dominating headlines, from the so-called “ground zero mosque” to a pastor’s planned Quran burning, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq traveled more than 13,000 miles into the heart of America over the last month, visiting 30 mosques in 30 days for Ramadan.

They began in New York, headed south and then cut across the country to California before making their way back, ending today in Michigan in the nation’s largest Muslim community. … Ali and Tariq were embraced nearly everywhere they went, from a Confederate souvenir shop in Georgia to the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada, to the hills of North Dakota where the nation’s first mosque was built in 1929.

The report is worth reading in full. It suggests — surprise, surprise! — that the “rising tide of Islamophobia” is a creation of the liberal media. Out in America, the citizenry is pretty decent, it turns out:

“After 13,000 miles, I think that America still exists, and I’m happy to know that it does,” said Tariq, a 23-year-old American of Pakistani descent. “It’s really made America feel like home to me in a way that I’ve never felt before. The America that we think about [as immigrants] is still actually there. I’ve seen it! And I’m seeing it still.”

But that’s not nearly as “newsworthy” as a crackpot pastor with 50 congregants who in the end decided not to burn the Koran. Any chance these fellows would get on This Week with Christiane Amanpour? Puleeze.

Aside from statistical data, there is a body of compelling anecdotal evidence that American Muslims really aren’t under siege at all. For example, CNN reports:

Far from the media frenzy dominating headlines, from the so-called “ground zero mosque” to a pastor’s planned Quran burning, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq traveled more than 13,000 miles into the heart of America over the last month, visiting 30 mosques in 30 days for Ramadan.

They began in New York, headed south and then cut across the country to California before making their way back, ending today in Michigan in the nation’s largest Muslim community. … Ali and Tariq were embraced nearly everywhere they went, from a Confederate souvenir shop in Georgia to the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada, to the hills of North Dakota where the nation’s first mosque was built in 1929.

The report is worth reading in full. It suggests — surprise, surprise! — that the “rising tide of Islamophobia” is a creation of the liberal media. Out in America, the citizenry is pretty decent, it turns out:

“After 13,000 miles, I think that America still exists, and I’m happy to know that it does,” said Tariq, a 23-year-old American of Pakistani descent. “It’s really made America feel like home to me in a way that I’ve never felt before. The America that we think about [as immigrants] is still actually there. I’ve seen it! And I’m seeing it still.”

But that’s not nearly as “newsworthy” as a crackpot pastor with 50 congregants who in the end decided not to burn the Koran. Any chance these fellows would get on This Week with Christiane Amanpour? Puleeze.

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The Media Spins More Nonsense About the Arms Trade Treaty

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

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The Demise of Harry Reid

The latest atrocious polling news for the Democrats tells us:

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman continues to outpoll Nevada Sen. Harry Reid when matched up against potential Republican general election foes, according to a new Daily Kos/Research2000 poll (Jan. 18-20, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%). Goodman leads former state GOP chair Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian, son of the famed UNLV basketball coach, while Reid trails both by an average of 10 points. Reid’s favorable rating is upside down (34% fav/55% unfav), as is President Obama’s (45% fav/50% unfav).

This is the second Democrat-phile polling outfit (Public Policy Polling was the first) to show both Reid cratering and Goodman as a potential, more viable alternative. The hints are being dropped, you see: dump Reid. At this point, it makes a lot of sense for the Democrats to try to push him out. The Left (infuriated that he “blew” health-care reform) would be pleased, the Democrats could cast him as the villain at the center of the corruption/backdoor dealing, and the seat could possibly be saved. Sure, it would set off another round of gloom-and-doom headlines, but that’s par for the course right now for the Democrats.

Come to think of it, the Democrats were probably not wise to have circled the wagons when Reid’s “light-skinned”/”Negro dialect” comments were revealed. They didn’t have to make him out to be a racist. All they could and should have said is the obvious: the Democrats can do better. But they were in knee-jerk defensive mode and failed to see their opening. Now they’ll have their hands full wrestling him off the stage. He’s a tenacious man and, unlike Dodd, may refuse to go quietly.

The Democrats will then have a choice: watch a bloody primary race against their own majority leader or lose the seat. That frankly could be said of many a Democratic Senate incumbent. It’s that kind of year.

The latest atrocious polling news for the Democrats tells us:

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman continues to outpoll Nevada Sen. Harry Reid when matched up against potential Republican general election foes, according to a new Daily Kos/Research2000 poll (Jan. 18-20, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%). Goodman leads former state GOP chair Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian, son of the famed UNLV basketball coach, while Reid trails both by an average of 10 points. Reid’s favorable rating is upside down (34% fav/55% unfav), as is President Obama’s (45% fav/50% unfav).

This is the second Democrat-phile polling outfit (Public Policy Polling was the first) to show both Reid cratering and Goodman as a potential, more viable alternative. The hints are being dropped, you see: dump Reid. At this point, it makes a lot of sense for the Democrats to try to push him out. The Left (infuriated that he “blew” health-care reform) would be pleased, the Democrats could cast him as the villain at the center of the corruption/backdoor dealing, and the seat could possibly be saved. Sure, it would set off another round of gloom-and-doom headlines, but that’s par for the course right now for the Democrats.

Come to think of it, the Democrats were probably not wise to have circled the wagons when Reid’s “light-skinned”/”Negro dialect” comments were revealed. They didn’t have to make him out to be a racist. All they could and should have said is the obvious: the Democrats can do better. But they were in knee-jerk defensive mode and failed to see their opening. Now they’ll have their hands full wrestling him off the stage. He’s a tenacious man and, unlike Dodd, may refuse to go quietly.

The Democrats will then have a choice: watch a bloody primary race against their own majority leader or lose the seat. That frankly could be said of many a Democratic Senate incumbent. It’s that kind of year.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At one time, this was thought to be a seat at risk for Republicans: “Former Congressman Rob Portman continues to have the edge on both his chief Democratic rivals in this year’s race for the U.S. Senate in Ohio.”

Charlie Cook has the Massachusetts Senate race as a toss-up, too: “Coakley has run an overly-cautious, somewhat clumsy campaign, only recently hitting the panic button. Some astute political observers note that even in attacking Brown, her campaign’s ads have been less impressive than the attacks on Brown launched by other entities. … To the extent Coakley may still have a tiny advantage, it appears not to meet the normal standard we have for a ‘lean’ rating: a competitive race but one in which one party has a clear advantage. We see no clear advantage.” This is Massachusetts, folks.

Why is it so close in Massachusetts? “Massachusetts politicos said that while anti-Washington sentiment is an element of what is happening in their state, they also blame state political dynamics in combination with presumption by the Democrats and the party’s candidate — Attorney General Martha Coakley — that the seat would be theirs without much of an effort. The Kennedy-anointed Coakley took nearly a week off from the campaign around Christmas. ‘A lot of Democrats in Massachusetts and certainly the Coakley campaign and myself thought this was going to be a lot easier than it’s turning out to be,’ said David Kravitz, a Boston lawyer and opera singer who runs a liberal political blog called bluemassgroup.com.”

It’s all a “political smear campaign,” he says: “Former UN weapons inspector turned Iraq war critic Scott Ritter has been caught in a police sex sting.” And his arrest (the charge was subsequently dismissed) in a 2001 Internet sex scandal was just a coincidence, I suppose.

Fred Barnes thinks ObamaCare isn’t a done deal yet in the House: “Republicans have a target-rich environment of 39 Democrats who voted in favor of Obamacare last year as possible defectors. Republicans will try to persuade as many of them as possible to switch, forcing Pelosi to find new Obamacare backers or see the health care bill die. … The 39 possible switchers include 11 pro-life Democrats who voted for Obamacare after a tough anti-abortion amendment was added. The compromise with the Senate bill isn’t likely to have as strong a provision barring the use of public funds to pay for abortions. Thus some of the pro-lifers could defect.”

Ben Nelson got booed at a pizza parlor. It seems his health-care vote has made him quite unpopular at home: “He used to be a popular figure back home, a Democrat who served eight years in the governor’s office and was elected twice to the Senate by a state that’s as red as the ‘N’ on football helmets. But Nelson has seen his approval ratings tumble in the wake of his wavering over the historic health care bill, his deal cutting with other Senate Democrats and, ultimately, his support to break a GOP filibuster and send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee.” Do other Red State Democrats think they’re immune from this reaction back home?

Elections have consequences: “The man once described by teachers’ union leaders as “the antithesis of everything we hold sacred about public education” was chosen to serve as state education commissioner by Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie on Wednesday. The nomination of Bret D. Schundler to the post underscored the governor’s determination to press ahead with his push for school vouchers, more charter schools and merit pay for teachers.”

Israel is helping in Haiti relief, though you won’t see much reporting on it.

Harry Reid is tanking: “36% approval to 58% disapproval, a 51-41 deficit against Sue Lowden, and a 50-42 one against Danny Tarkanian.” I suspect he’ll be joining Chris Dodd in retirement. You’d have thought that Democrats would have figured out how to dump him in the flap over his “Negro dialect” comments. But maybe it’s not too late. The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit helpfully polls Democratic alternatives to Reid and finds that the Las Vegas mayor does best against GOP challengers.

At one time, this was thought to be a seat at risk for Republicans: “Former Congressman Rob Portman continues to have the edge on both his chief Democratic rivals in this year’s race for the U.S. Senate in Ohio.”

Charlie Cook has the Massachusetts Senate race as a toss-up, too: “Coakley has run an overly-cautious, somewhat clumsy campaign, only recently hitting the panic button. Some astute political observers note that even in attacking Brown, her campaign’s ads have been less impressive than the attacks on Brown launched by other entities. … To the extent Coakley may still have a tiny advantage, it appears not to meet the normal standard we have for a ‘lean’ rating: a competitive race but one in which one party has a clear advantage. We see no clear advantage.” This is Massachusetts, folks.

Why is it so close in Massachusetts? “Massachusetts politicos said that while anti-Washington sentiment is an element of what is happening in their state, they also blame state political dynamics in combination with presumption by the Democrats and the party’s candidate — Attorney General Martha Coakley — that the seat would be theirs without much of an effort. The Kennedy-anointed Coakley took nearly a week off from the campaign around Christmas. ‘A lot of Democrats in Massachusetts and certainly the Coakley campaign and myself thought this was going to be a lot easier than it’s turning out to be,’ said David Kravitz, a Boston lawyer and opera singer who runs a liberal political blog called bluemassgroup.com.”

It’s all a “political smear campaign,” he says: “Former UN weapons inspector turned Iraq war critic Scott Ritter has been caught in a police sex sting.” And his arrest (the charge was subsequently dismissed) in a 2001 Internet sex scandal was just a coincidence, I suppose.

Fred Barnes thinks ObamaCare isn’t a done deal yet in the House: “Republicans have a target-rich environment of 39 Democrats who voted in favor of Obamacare last year as possible defectors. Republicans will try to persuade as many of them as possible to switch, forcing Pelosi to find new Obamacare backers or see the health care bill die. … The 39 possible switchers include 11 pro-life Democrats who voted for Obamacare after a tough anti-abortion amendment was added. The compromise with the Senate bill isn’t likely to have as strong a provision barring the use of public funds to pay for abortions. Thus some of the pro-lifers could defect.”

Ben Nelson got booed at a pizza parlor. It seems his health-care vote has made him quite unpopular at home: “He used to be a popular figure back home, a Democrat who served eight years in the governor’s office and was elected twice to the Senate by a state that’s as red as the ‘N’ on football helmets. But Nelson has seen his approval ratings tumble in the wake of his wavering over the historic health care bill, his deal cutting with other Senate Democrats and, ultimately, his support to break a GOP filibuster and send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee.” Do other Red State Democrats think they’re immune from this reaction back home?

Elections have consequences: “The man once described by teachers’ union leaders as “the antithesis of everything we hold sacred about public education” was chosen to serve as state education commissioner by Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie on Wednesday. The nomination of Bret D. Schundler to the post underscored the governor’s determination to press ahead with his push for school vouchers, more charter schools and merit pay for teachers.”

Israel is helping in Haiti relief, though you won’t see much reporting on it.

Harry Reid is tanking: “36% approval to 58% disapproval, a 51-41 deficit against Sue Lowden, and a 50-42 one against Danny Tarkanian.” I suspect he’ll be joining Chris Dodd in retirement. You’d have thought that Democrats would have figured out how to dump him in the flap over his “Negro dialect” comments. But maybe it’s not too late. The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit helpfully polls Democratic alternatives to Reid and finds that the Las Vegas mayor does best against GOP challengers.

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The Dubai Effect

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules. Read More

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules.

Lebanon and Iraq have both been hailed as possible models for the rest of the region, but they aren’t really. Maybe they will be someday, but they aren’t today. Freewheeling Lebanon is more or less democratic, but it’s unstable. It blows up every year. The Beirut Spring in 2005 ousted the Syrian military dictatorship, but shaking off Iran and its private Hezbollah militia has proved nearly impossible. Iraq is likewise still too violent and dysfunctional to be an inspiring model right now.

Many of the skyscrapering steel and glass cities of the Persian Gulf feel like soulless shopping malls. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to suggest that one of these places is “the Paris of the Middle East,” as Beirut has often been called. Dubai’s outrageous attractions and socially liberal atmosphere, however, makes it something like a Las Vegas of the Middle East as a traveler’s destination. And it really is something like a Hong Kong or Singapore as a place to do business.

It features prominently in Vali Nasr’s compelling new book Forces of Fortune, where he argues that the Middle East may finally liberalize politically after it has first been transformed economically by a middle-class commercial revolution. Most in the West haven’t noticed, but that revolution has already begun. And what he calls “the Dubai effect” is a key part of it.

“People in the region who visit Dubai,” he writes, “return home wondering why their governments can’t issue passports in a day or provide clean mosques and schools, better airports, airlines and roads, and above all better government.”

He’s right. Most Beirutis I know look down on Dubai as artificial and gimmicky, but just about everyone else in the region who isn’t a radical Islamist thinks it’s amazing.

It’s different geopolitically, too. The government is more sincerely pro-American than the nominally pro-American governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Michael Yon put it this way when he visited in 2006 on his way to Iraq: “Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America.”

Its leadership has also stepped a long way back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Dubai nor any of the other UAE emirates have gone so far as to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but they also aren’t participating in the conflict or making it worse. Israeli citizens can and do visit, which is unthinkable almost everywhere else in the Arab world. A rotating tower designed by an Israeli architect is slated to be completed next year. There isn’t a chance that even Egypt or Jordan, both of which have signed peace treaties, would let an Israeli design one of their architectural set pieces.

Dubai has problems, of course, aside from the inevitable bursting of its financial bubble. Its government is a fairly benign dictatorship, especially compared with the likes of Syria and Iran, but it’s a dictatorship all the same. Many of its imported laborers live and work in ghastly conditions, and some are lured there under false pretenses.

It’s flawed, it’s weird, and its overall model of development can’t be ported everywhere else. Only so many cities can build ski resorts in the desert and underwater hotel rooms that go for $5,000 a night. But Dubai’s model needn’t be copied and pasted as-is, and Nasr’s “Dubai effect” is a powerful thing. The city proves to everyone who goes there that when an Arab Muslim country opens up its economy, keeps the clerics out of the saddle, and eschews radical causes, it can build places that are impressive not just by local standards but by international standards as well. If even half its foreign and domestic policies are adopted by its neighbors, the region will be a much nicer place for the people who live there, and less of a headache for everyone else.

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The World’s Largest Trope

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

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NEVADA: Delegate War . . .

. . . as expected.
From MSNBC:

The Obama campaign just held a conference call with reporters asserting that — due to Obama beating Clinton outside of Clark County (Las Vegas) — they actually won more pledged Nevada delegates than Clinton did, 13-12.

From the Washington Post:

Both the chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party and a senior adviser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign are insisting that the contention that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won more delegates in today’s caucus is incorrect.

The Clintons were calling foul when Hillary was clearly winning . . .

. . . as expected.
From MSNBC:

The Obama campaign just held a conference call with reporters asserting that — due to Obama beating Clinton outside of Clark County (Las Vegas) — they actually won more pledged Nevada delegates than Clinton did, 13-12.

From the Washington Post:

Both the chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party and a senior adviser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign are insisting that the contention that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won more delegates in today’s caucus is incorrect.

The Clintons were calling foul when Hillary was clearly winning . . .

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A Race to the Bottom

On Saturday the Iraqi parliament passed the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which is intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to civil service jobs. While the details of the law need to be studied carefully, this appears to be precisely the kind of political reconciliation Democrats have been calling for, and its passage undermines one of their chief arguments against pursuing the conflict in Iraq to a favorable conclusion: the surge, while militarily effective, must be deemed a failure because we have witnessed no political progress.

This view has been contradicted by the “bottom up” reconciliation that has been taking place throughout most of 2007. Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, has said that reconciliation is more than national legislation. It’s also what we’re seeing in the provinces around Iraq – and there we are seeing more cross-sectarian political activity. Nevertheless, it’s true that the central government has been far too inflexible and unyielding when it comes to taking steps to unify Iraq. Yet even that appears to be changing. As Secretary Rice said yesterday, “When I hear that the surge was to give the Iraqi people a chance for political reconciliation, I say that’s absolutely right. And while it hasn’t always moved as fast as some of us sitting in Washington would like, it has certainly moved.”

What we are seeing in Iraq is a struggling Arab democracy—the words were once a contradiction—evolve and grow. And while that evolution has been slow and imperfect, as was America’s, it is something we should be encouraged by and build on.

Read More

On Saturday the Iraqi parliament passed the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which is intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to civil service jobs. While the details of the law need to be studied carefully, this appears to be precisely the kind of political reconciliation Democrats have been calling for, and its passage undermines one of their chief arguments against pursuing the conflict in Iraq to a favorable conclusion: the surge, while militarily effective, must be deemed a failure because we have witnessed no political progress.

This view has been contradicted by the “bottom up” reconciliation that has been taking place throughout most of 2007. Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, has said that reconciliation is more than national legislation. It’s also what we’re seeing in the provinces around Iraq – and there we are seeing more cross-sectarian political activity. Nevertheless, it’s true that the central government has been far too inflexible and unyielding when it comes to taking steps to unify Iraq. Yet even that appears to be changing. As Secretary Rice said yesterday, “When I hear that the surge was to give the Iraqi people a chance for political reconciliation, I say that’s absolutely right. And while it hasn’t always moved as fast as some of us sitting in Washington would like, it has certainly moved.”

What we are seeing in Iraq is a struggling Arab democracy—the words were once a contradiction—evolve and grow. And while that evolution has been slow and imperfect, as was America’s, it is something we should be encouraged by and build on.

The top three Democratic contenders for President, however, see things quite differently. During last night’s debate in Las Vegas, they were asked about Iraq. One might have hoped that the events of the last year and of the last week might lead them to reassess their unbending commitment to prematurely withdraw American troops from Iraq. One might have hoped that new evidence would lead them to draw new conclusions and draw up new plans.

Not a chance.

Last night Senator Obama proudly declared, “I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009.” He added, “My first job as president of the United States is going to be to call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and say, you’ve got a new mission, and that is to responsibly, carefully but deliberately start to phase out our involvement there, and to make sure that we are putting the onus on the Iraqi government to come together and do what they need to do to arrive at peace… I have been very specific in saying that we will not have permanent bases there—I will end the war as we understand it in combat missions.”

Senator Clinton put it this way: “I’m on record as saying exactly that as soon as I become president, we will start withdrawing within 60 days. We will move as carefully and responsibly as we can, one to two brigades a month, I believe, and we’ll have nearly all the troops out by the end of the year, I hope.”

And John Edwards, never to be outdone when it comes to embracing an irresponsible policy, said this: “I think I’ve actually, among the three of us, been the most aggressive and said that I will have all combat troops out in the first year that I’m president of the United States. I will end combat missions and while I’m president, there will be no permanent military bases in Iraq.”

No combat troops, no permanent bases, no nothing. The Democratic position seems to be that we will simply wipe our hands of this unpopular war, come what may.

What is completely missing from the Democratic stance is the importance, and even the possibility, of a decent outcome in Iraq. One increasingly gets the sense that they view progress in Iraq as an annoyance, something that may prove to be an obstacle to their efforts. More and more Obama, Clinton, Edwards and their allies on Capitol Hill appear as if they are characters in the movie Ground Hog Day. Like Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors, they find themselves stuck in time. But Democrats find themselves stuck not on a particular day but in a particular year, 2006—and they are seemingly unable or unwilling to process the progress we have seen in 2007. They cannot even entertain the possibility that a nation that was in a death spiral is not being reconstituted.

Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are in a state of denial—and their apparently willingness, and even eagerness, to undermine all we have achieved in Iraq in order to maintain an ideological commitment is intellectually dishonest and reckless. If a Democrat wins in November, the best we can hope for is that the positions they are espousing now are merely cynical and not serious. We should be able to hope for more.

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Hilarious.

From Andy Borowitz, the funniest man on the Internet:

Hillary Schedules Official Crying Jag for South Carolina

Launches ‘Sniffling Tour’ Before SuperDuper Tuesday

Saying that she has learned valuable lessons from her victory in the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) today announced that she was scheduling an official crying jag for the eve of the South Carolina primary on January 26.

Speaking to reporters in Las Vegas this morning, her eyes noticeably watery, Mrs. Clinton said that her election eve crying jag would be scheduled for 4 PM EST on January 25.

But the newly lachrymose junior senator from New York indicated that her South Carolinian waterworks would only be one stop on an ambitious tear-drenched campaign schedule leading up to SuperDuper Tuesday on February 5, an itinerary which she and her aides are calling her “Sniffling Tour.”

“I’m going to be crying so much you’re going to think I’m Anderson Cooper,” she wept….

From Andy Borowitz, the funniest man on the Internet:

Hillary Schedules Official Crying Jag for South Carolina

Launches ‘Sniffling Tour’ Before SuperDuper Tuesday

Saying that she has learned valuable lessons from her victory in the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) today announced that she was scheduling an official crying jag for the eve of the South Carolina primary on January 26.

Speaking to reporters in Las Vegas this morning, her eyes noticeably watery, Mrs. Clinton said that her election eve crying jag would be scheduled for 4 PM EST on January 25.

But the newly lachrymose junior senator from New York indicated that her South Carolinian waterworks would only be one stop on an ambitious tear-drenched campaign schedule leading up to SuperDuper Tuesday on February 5, an itinerary which she and her aides are calling her “Sniffling Tour.”

“I’m going to be crying so much you’re going to think I’m Anderson Cooper,” she wept….

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America’s Favorite Buildings

The architecture of California, to the chagrin of the Los Angeles Times, is uninspiring. Or so one might conclude from a poll of America’s 150 favorite buildings, put together by the American Institute of Architects to mark its 150th anniversary. It shows that the country’s most beloved buildings are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Northeast, including the Empire State Building (1), the White House (2), the U.S. Capitol (6), the Chrysler Building (9), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10). In fact, of the top twenty, a full sixteen are in either New York or Washington, D.C. And California’s most impressive showing is not for a building at all but for an engineering marvel, the Golden Gate Bridge (5).

Of particular distress to the Times were the lackluster ratings given those much-acclaimed Los Angeles gems, the Getty Museum (95) and the Disney Concert Hall (99). The paper offers no explanation for these low rankings, but it may be on to something. How is it that the center of the entertainment industry, which creates the imagery that comprises American popular culture, has been so lackluster in creating memorable architecture? The relative newness of the West Coast is only a partial answer, since the public clearly feels deep affection for a recent monument like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10).

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The architecture of California, to the chagrin of the Los Angeles Times, is uninspiring. Or so one might conclude from a poll of America’s 150 favorite buildings, put together by the American Institute of Architects to mark its 150th anniversary. It shows that the country’s most beloved buildings are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Northeast, including the Empire State Building (1), the White House (2), the U.S. Capitol (6), the Chrysler Building (9), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10). In fact, of the top twenty, a full sixteen are in either New York or Washington, D.C. And California’s most impressive showing is not for a building at all but for an engineering marvel, the Golden Gate Bridge (5).

Of particular distress to the Times were the lackluster ratings given those much-acclaimed Los Angeles gems, the Getty Museum (95) and the Disney Concert Hall (99). The paper offers no explanation for these low rankings, but it may be on to something. How is it that the center of the entertainment industry, which creates the imagery that comprises American popular culture, has been so lackluster in creating memorable architecture? The relative newness of the West Coast is only a partial answer, since the public clearly feels deep affection for a recent monument like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10).

In fact, what is most impressive about the poll is how impervious it is to hype and publicity. The list is heavy on public monuments, museums, and buildings of state, and in that sense is deeply conservative. Perhaps it reflects a widespread affection for America’s symbolic architecture in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center (19). It is difficult to imagine that a list of popular buildings compiled before 9/11 would have been so steeped in tradition.

My main quibble with the poll is different from that of the Times. How is it that Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (27) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater (29)—America’s two greatest houses, and two of the world’s greatest houses—are ranked below the Bellagio Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas (22)?

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Mr. Wynn’s Elbow

The strangest art story of the year grows stranger yet. Last October, Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas developer and art collector, accidentally shoved his elbow through Picasso’s Le Rêve (The Dream), the single most valuable work in his collection. Among the eyewitnesses were Barbara Walters and Nora Ephron, who amusingly detailed the mishap on her blog. In a bizarre coincidence, Wynn had agreed only the day before to sell Le Rêve to Steven Cohen, a hedge-fund tycoon, for $139 million. Now that deal is off and Wynn is suing Lloyd’s of London, the painting’s insurers, for its drop in value, which he puts at $58 million dollars. (He has blamed the accident on a medical condition that deprived him of his peripheral vision.)

In most accounts, the story has been played for laughs—the casino billionaire who is all elbows. The painting’s erotic subject matter has also drawn comment: it shows Marie-Thérèse Walther, the artist’s young mistress. It was painted in 1932, long after Picasso’s Cubist heyday, but some of its value can be ascribed to the light it casts on his personal life. Less has been said, however, about the peculiar sequence of events: one day the purchase agreement for the painting is signed, establishing its market value, and the next day the painting is mutilated before a large gathering of witnesses, instantly reducing its value and—in Wynn’s view—earning him a check for the difference.

Equally strange are the mechanics of the damage to the painting. An elbow thrust, however fierce or well-aimed, is not likely to puncture a linen canvas. Paintings are not stretched tight as a drum and have a certain degree of give, and the tendency of the fabric when struck by a blunt instrument is to dent or else to give way where it is nailed to the stretcher. In order to confirm this, I asked a painter friend to take a taut canvas and see if he could pierce it with his elbow. Working with heavy cotton duck canvas (a weaker fabric than the Belgian linen that Picasso likely used), he was only able to put a bowl-shaped depression into the canvas, despite repeated attempts.

The insurers will be investigating this case carefully. Perhaps they’ll ask to take a cast of Mr. Wynn’s elbow.

The strangest art story of the year grows stranger yet. Last October, Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas developer and art collector, accidentally shoved his elbow through Picasso’s Le Rêve (The Dream), the single most valuable work in his collection. Among the eyewitnesses were Barbara Walters and Nora Ephron, who amusingly detailed the mishap on her blog. In a bizarre coincidence, Wynn had agreed only the day before to sell Le Rêve to Steven Cohen, a hedge-fund tycoon, for $139 million. Now that deal is off and Wynn is suing Lloyd’s of London, the painting’s insurers, for its drop in value, which he puts at $58 million dollars. (He has blamed the accident on a medical condition that deprived him of his peripheral vision.)

In most accounts, the story has been played for laughs—the casino billionaire who is all elbows. The painting’s erotic subject matter has also drawn comment: it shows Marie-Thérèse Walther, the artist’s young mistress. It was painted in 1932, long after Picasso’s Cubist heyday, but some of its value can be ascribed to the light it casts on his personal life. Less has been said, however, about the peculiar sequence of events: one day the purchase agreement for the painting is signed, establishing its market value, and the next day the painting is mutilated before a large gathering of witnesses, instantly reducing its value and—in Wynn’s view—earning him a check for the difference.

Equally strange are the mechanics of the damage to the painting. An elbow thrust, however fierce or well-aimed, is not likely to puncture a linen canvas. Paintings are not stretched tight as a drum and have a certain degree of give, and the tendency of the fabric when struck by a blunt instrument is to dent or else to give way where it is nailed to the stretcher. In order to confirm this, I asked a painter friend to take a taut canvas and see if he could pierce it with his elbow. Working with heavy cotton duck canvas (a weaker fabric than the Belgian linen that Picasso likely used), he was only able to put a bowl-shaped depression into the canvas, despite repeated attempts.

The insurers will be investigating this case carefully. Perhaps they’ll ask to take a cast of Mr. Wynn’s elbow.

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