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Why Washington is broken

WASHINGTON — Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican senator who asked the Discovery Channel to film him and a Democratic colleague last month as they subsisted on an uninhabited Pacific island, came home with a sunburn, a 10-pound weight loss — and a desire to see Senate leaders put through the same ordeal.

Obama needs Congress to approve this war

WASHINGTON — The United States last declared war many wars ago, on June 5, 1942, when, to clarify legal ambiguities during a world conflagration, it declared war on Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Today’s issue is not whether to declare war but only whether the president should even seek congressional authorization for the protracted use of force against the Islamic State.

Can Congress be responsible?

WASHINGTON — There was a moment in the last quarter-century when the Congress of the United States made the nation proud. It did so across all its usual lines of division: Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal, hawk and dove.

Dove Obama makes a reluctant hawk

As he offered to the nation his prescription for the most recent Middle East crisis, President Barack Obama reminded me of Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part III.” “Just when I thought I was out,” sighed the young mob boss about his efforts to leave the family business, “they pull me back in.”

Scotland’s epic vote

WASHINGTON — Tucking into a dish of Scottish haggis is not a task for the fainthearted. There are various haggis recipes, but basically it is sheep’s pluck — the heart, lungs and liver — cooked together, then mixed with suet and oatmeal and boiled in a sheep’s stomach, then served, sometimes drenched with Scotch. People who pour whisky on oatmeal are not shrinking violets. Remember this on Thursday when Scotland votes on independence from the United Kingdom.

Obama’s careful war

WASHINGTON — The most compelling and encouraging parts of President Barack Obama’s Islamic State speech — his intention to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the enemy, his pledge to hunt down its fighters and deny them “safe haven,” his moral clarity on their “acts of barbarism” — also sounded least like Obama. Everyone — and I mean just about everyone on the planet — knows that he was more comfortable declaring that America had moved “off a permanent war footing” and that the war on terrorism, “like all wars, must end.”

The new politics of foreign policy

WASHINGTON — Over the last decade, Americans’ views on foreign policy have swung sharply from support for intervention to a profound mistrust of any military engagement overseas. Over the same period, political debates on foreign affairs have been bitter and polarized, defined by the question of whether the invasion of Iraq was a proper use of the nation’s power or a catastrophic mistake.

Extremism in defense of re-election

WASHINGTON — Since Barry Goldwater, accepting the Republicans’ 1964 presidential nomination, said “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” Democrats have been decrying Republican “extremism.” Actually, although there is abundant foolishness and unseemliness in American politics, real extremism — measures or movements that menace the Constitution’s architecture of ordered liberty — is rare. This week, however, extremism stained the Senate.

When moderates fight back

WASHINGTON — The missing component in the machinery of American politics has been moderate-to-liberal Republicanism, and the gears of government are grinding very loudly. You wonder if Kansas and Alaska have come up with a solution to this problem.

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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?

A lawsuit with little merit

WASHINGTON — Rep. Pete Sessions, the House Rules Committee chairman who led Wednesday’s hearing on Republicans’ plans to sue President Obama, presented the legal credentials that have put him in this position of responsibility.

Corrupting citizens for fun and profit

WASHINGTON — Two of the larger social trends of our time — the growth of payday gambling and the legalization of marijuana — have two things in common: They are justified as the expansion of personal liberty and they serve the interests of an expanding government.