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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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Who had the worst week in Washington? Hillary Clinton

When “Hard Choices,” Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoir of her time at the State Department, came out in early June, the book — and subsequent book tour — were touted as the first steps in the inevitable 2016 presidential bid by the nation’s former top diplomat. If that’s what they are, Clinton may be in for some tough times.

The court’s indispensable role

WASHINGTON — Two 5-4 decisions last week on the final decision day of the Supreme Court’s term dealt with issues that illustrate the legal consequences of political tactics by today’s progressives. One case demonstrated how progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, manufactures social strife, and can do so in ways politically useful to progressives. The other case arose from government coercion used to conscript unwilling citizens into funding the progressives’ party.

Learning the American language

WASHINGTON — On July 9, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was first publicly read to the citizens of New York — “We hold these truths to be self-evident … ” — they responded by decapitating an equestrian statue of George III, cutting off his nose and placing his head on a spike outside a tavern. Metal from the statue was later turned into 42,088 bullets, intended, by one account, “to assimilate with the brains” of the British.

Colleges are slowly taking away your First Amendment rights

PHILADELPHIA — Sept. 17 last year was a pretty bad day for the Constitution on our campuses. Robert Van Tuinen of Modesto Junior College in California was prevented from passing out copies of the Constitution outside of his college’s tiny “free speech zone.” Near Los Angeles, Citrus College student Vinny Sinapi-Riddle was threatened with removal from campus for the “offense” of collecting signatures for a petition against NSA domestic surveillance outside his college’s tiny free speech area. I mention September 17 because that was Constitution Day.

Curse of judicial minimalism

WASHINGTON — Even when Supreme Court decisions are unanimous, the justices can be fiercely divided about fundamental matters, as was demonstrated by two 9-0 rulings last week. One overturned a Massachusetts law restricting speech near abortion clinics. The other invalidated recess appointments that President Obama made when the Senate said it was not in recess. In the first, four justices who concurred in the result rejected the majority’s reasoning because it minimized the law’s constitutional offense. In the second, four justices who concurred with the court’s judgment that Obama had exceeded his powers argued that the majority’s reasoning validated the Senate’s long complicity in practices that augment presidential power by diminishing the Senate’s power to advise and consent to presidential nominations.

Hobby Lobby case is an attack on women

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in the nationally followed Hobby Lobby case. The for-profit corporations that brought these cases to the Supreme Court — a craft store and a cabinet manufacturer — argued that the corporations’ religious convictions should excuse them from compensating their employees through the comprehensive health insurance required by law. Specifically, these private employers sought to exclude insurance coverage of several forms of birth control because, contrary to medical and scientific evidence, the corporations’ owners believe some birth control causes abortions.