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Twitter as America’s conscience

WASHINGTON — Denizens of social media were rankled during Sunday night’s Academy Awards telecast when actor Sean Penn made a crack about Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and green cards.

Reversing course in Illinois

CHICAGO — The most portentous election of 2014, which gave the worst-governed state its first Republican governor in 12 years, has initiated this century’s most intriguing political experiment. Illinois has favored Democratic presidential candidates by an average of 16 points in the last six elections. But by electing businessman Bruce Rauner, it initiated a process that might dismantle a form of governance that afflicts many states and municipalities.

The fragility of life’s greatest gift

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — At a health center here, a young woman is in the recovery room after a cesarean section. A nurse takes the newborn to a table for cleanup. We (a group organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies) are allowed to enter and see the child. But the newborn girl starts struggling for breath. Three more nurses enter. One briefly applies bag-and-mask ventilation. Yet her breathing grows weaker and weaker, as she turns a horrible shade of gray.

Tweeting against terrorism

“We’re here today because we all understand that in dealing with violent extremism, that we need answers that go beyond a military answer. We need answers that go beyond force.” — Vice President Joe Biden at the Countering Violent Extremism Summit, Feb. 17

The riddle of war

WASHINGTON — There’s a very 2001 feel to President Barack Obama’s request for authorization to use military force and the nauseating sense that we’ll be at war indefinitely.

Taming the government ‘Leviathan by proxy’

WASHINGTON — For the six years of the Obama presidency, or perhaps the last 35 years since Ronald Reagan’s election, American politics has been dominated by a debate on the size and role of the federal government. This argument, while intense and consequential, has often lacked one element: actual knowledge about the size and role of the federal government.

Curb your pessimism

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama’s tone of mild exasperation when tutoring the public often makes his pronouncements grating even when they are sensible. As was his recent suggestion that Americans, misled by media, are exaggerating the threat of terrorism.

The Pence paradox

WASHINGTON — Although he is always preternaturally placid, Mike Pence today exemplifies a Republican conundrum. Sitting recently 24 blocks from Capitol Hill, where he served six terms as a congressman, and eight blocks from the White House, which some Republicans hope he craves, Pence, now in his third year as Indiana’s governor, discussed two issues, Common Core and Medicaid expansion, that illustrate the following:

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Our bias, ourselves

WASHINGTON — Recent events from Ferguson, Mo., to Staten Island, N.Y., might prompt an observer to infer that American cops are racist and that a bigoted white populace tolerates unnecessary lethal force against minorities.

Climate change’s instructive past

WASHINGTON — We know, because they often say so, that those who think catastrophic global warming is probable and perhaps imminent are exemplary empiricists. They say those who disagree with them are “climate change deniers” disrespectful of science.

Are Democrats stuck in 1979?

WASHINGTON — The passing of Mario Cuomo brought bipartisan tributes appropriate to a rare political figure with a developed inner life. He was Catholic educated, and it showed. How many other politicians grappled with Thomas Aquinas? Even the loser is dignified by such a duel.

The senator to watch in 2015

WASHINGTON — Standing at the intersection of three foreign policy crises and a perennial constitutional tension, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, may be the senator who matters most in 2015. Without an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) tailored to novel circumstances, America is waging war against an entity without precedent (the Islamic State). Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons during negotiations that should involve congressional duties. And Russia is revising European borders by force and, like Iran, is the object of a U.S. experiment testing the power of economic sanctions to modify a dictator’s behavior. As Congress weighs its foreign policy role regarding these three matters, Corker treads the contested terrain between deference to presidential primacy in foreign policy and the need for collective wisdom and shared responsibility.