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2014 and the limits of rage

WASHINGTON — The short-term future of politics in the nation’s capital will be determined in large part by which party ends up in control of the Senate. But for a sense of the long-term future of politics in the country as a whole, watch the governors races.

Navy with a mission in mind

WASHINGTON — Russia’s ongoing dismemberment of Ukraine and the Islamic State’s erasing of Middle Eastern borders have distracted attention from the harassment of U.S. Navy aircraft by Chinese fighter jets over the South China Sea. Beijing calls this sea, and the Yellow and East China seas, the “near seas,” meaning China’s seas. The episodes involving aircraft are relevant to one of Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s multiplying preoccupations — CUES, meaning Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea.

In defense of the defenders

WASHINGTON — What is called “the” 1964 Civil Rights Act is justly celebrated for outlawing racial and other discrimination in employment, “public accommodations” and elsewhere. But that year’s second civil rights act, the Criminal Justice Act, which is 50 years old this month, is, some say, largely a failure because of unanticipated changes in the legal and social context. Is it?

Too detached to lead?

WASHINGTON — Having once served a president, I don’t begrudge any president a vacation. There is, in fact, no escape from this relentless job. A change of scenery does not involve a change in responsibilities, or even a release from the essence of the president’s routine. The intelligence briefings stalk him. Presidential respites are measured in hours, not days or weeks — say, a few hours on a golf course. And the public would be selfish and shortsighted to demand those downtime hours, which are necessary for humans to function.

Obamacare, beyond the label

WASHINGTON — The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be a slam dunk issue for the Republicans in this fall’s elections. Karl Rove told us so in April, writing that “Obamacare is and will remain a political problem for Democrats.”

No time to lead from behind

WASHINGTON — Responding to the horrifying murder of photojournalist James Foley, Secretary of State John Kerry declared, “ISIL (the Islamic State) and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed.” President Obama said, “people like this ultimately fail.” The first is a pledge; the second an observation. Obama remains a rhetorical spectator to events in Iraq and Syria he does not want to own, and that he believes America has a limited ability to influence.

Fed up with cupcake cops

WASHINGTON — In physics, a unified field theory is an attempt to explain with a single hypothesis the behavior of several fields. Its political corollary is the Cupcake Postulate, which explains everything, from Missouri to Iraq, concerning Americans’ comprehensive withdrawal of confidence from government at all levels and all areas of activity.

Where goes the neighborhood?

WASHINGTON — Consider how our definition of “neighborliness” has evolved. Once upon a time, being neighborly meant “reaching out to the people who lived next door” by, among other things, “offering to watch the kids in a pinch.”

Nature’s creative danger

WASHINGTON — Although the Ebola virus might remain mostly confined to West Africa, it has infected the Western imagination. This eruption of uncontrolled nature into what developed nations consider serene modernity is more disturbing to the emotional serenity of multitudes than it is threatening to their physical health.

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Me Inc. offers plenty of dividends

WASHINGTON — “Checked the tax code,” wrote a friend who’s engaged to a woman from a low-tax country. “Unfortunately, marrying [my fiancee] does not entitle me to a tax inversion like the big U.S. companies are getting. Thanks for nothing IRS.”

In Oregon, a doctor calls

PORTLAND, Ore. — “Are you kidding ?” This is Monica Wehby’s amiable response to people who wonder whether she will be able to bear the pressures of office if she wins her race as a Republican Senate candidate. For 17 of her 52 years she has been a pediatric neurosurgeon, holding in steady hands sharp steel and the fate of children’s brains. She probably can cope with the strains of legislative life.

Goldwater 2.0

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Fifty Julys ago, up the road near San Francisco, in the unfortunately named Cow Palace, the Republican National Convention gave its presidential nomination to Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who knew he would lose: Americans were not going to have a third president in 14 months. Besides, his don’t-fence-me-in libertarian conservatism was ahead of its time. His agenda, however, was to change his party’s national brand.

The dystopia next door

WASHINGTON — In 1993, Lois Lowry wrote a slim book for youth about totalitarianism, euthanasia, suicide, sexual awakening and infanticide. “The Giver” created a blooming genre — the dystopian youth novel — and considerable controversy. Some parents wanted the book banned from schools, thus unintentionally re-asking the book’s central question: How comprehensively should children (and other humans) be protected from risk and pain?