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Free trade, and US role in Asia

We’ve faulted President Barack Obama for his less-than-full-throated support of free-trade agreements that enjoy the nominal backing of his administration. There was no such cause for complaint about his State of the Union address Tuesday night, however, in which he called on “both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe.” In practical terms, that means Obama believes his negotiators are close to cementing market-opening pacts with 11 Pacific Rim nations — most importantly, Japan — and with the European Union and that passing a bill authorizing an up-or-down congressional vote on the final agreements will strengthen his hand at the bargaining table.

Judicial elections undermine confidence in justice system

Almost all candidates for public office have one thing in common: They have to be very good at asking people for money. Except if they happen to be running for judge in Florida, where judicial candidates are prohibited from personally soliciting contributions. They can, however, have surrogates ask — and they are allowed to send personal thank-you notes to those who donate.

State of Union speech not as important as reaction

President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union addresses have been more fanciful than most. Not because he has championed colonizing distant galaxies or dispensing free ice cream, but because for the last four years half of Congress — this year, all of it — has been controlled by a party that has starkly different ideas about the role and purpose of government.

Biting the hand

The Internal Revenue Service may be the least-loved arm of the federal government. For tax-hating Republican lawmakers still angry over what they see as IRS malfeasance, the antipathy is especially strong. That explains why GOP lawmakers repeatedly have cut the agency’s budget over the past several years, including a 3 percent reduction this year. But no matter how therapeutic it may feel to hack away at the IRS, it is deeply irrational.

Closing the income gap

Glaring, and growing, inequality of wealth and income is one of the most troubling issues facing the United States and other democratic, capitalist societies. So far, this threat to social stability and political legitimacy has proved as intractable as it is worrisome. The lawmaker and the party that devise an effective solution could deserve a grand electoral prize.

Obama puts war on hold

President Barack Obama’s neglect of the anti-terrorism march in Paris seemed reflective of a broader loss of momentum by his administration in combating Islamic jihadism. Five months after the president launched military operations against the Islamic State, fighting in Iraq and Syria appears stalemated. The training of Iraqi army units for a hoped-for counteroffensive is proceeding slowly and, according to a report by The Washington Post’s Loveday Morris, looks under-resourced. Weapons and ammunition are in such short supply that trainees are yelling “bang, bang” in place of shooting.

Holder, Justice Department right to revise treatment of media

There has been been a welcome evolution by Attorney General Eric Holder on the issue of government interrogation and investigation of reporters. The new approach reflects more thought and balance than the administration’s earlier efforts. Holder’s final actions before leaving office do not entirely ease worries about leak investigations, but they do show that Holder was listening to reasonable objections and willing to change.

Special interests’ delivery

Any time an official retires after devoting 40 years of honorable public service to a single institution, it’s an occasion for thanks and respect. And it’s an occasion to listen carefully to what that veteran has to say upon his departure. Case in point: the valedictory remarks of Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe on Jan. 6, which reflected the lessons of a lifetime as a U.S. Postal Service employee and manager. Donahoe’s words properly framed the predicament facing this financially distressed but vital agency as a basic test of democratic governance.

Boko Haram on the march

While the world fixated on the murder of 12 people by Islamic terrorists in Paris last week, another slow and grisly massacre was taking place in Nigeria, at the hands of the Islamist militants of Boko Haram.

Keeping score

On its face, there is nothing particularly mischievous about the budget accounting rule that the House of Representatives adopted last week. It simply calls for the two nonpartisan bodies that keep score on fiscal matters, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, to “incorporate the macroeconomic effects” of “major” tax or mandatory spending legislation when they develop official cost estimates: That is, analysts are supposed to factor in the wider impact on growth, employment and inflation and how that might feed back to make the budget deficit larger or smaller.

Higher priorities on education

“Today I’m announcing an ambitious new plan to bring down the cost of community college tuition in this country,” President Barack Obama said in Tennessee on Friday. “I want to bring it down to zero. I want to make it free.”

On to Havana

In announcing the normalization of relations with Cuba last month, President Barack Obama violated two pledges he had made: to link such a liberalization to “significant steps toward democracy,” including the freeing of all political prisoners; and to consult with Cuban civil society, including pro-democracy activists, on the change. In what looked at the time like a partial recompense, the White House announced that the Castro regime had agreed to free 53 detainees — or about half the number of political prisoners identified by Cuban human rights activists.

Back to work officers

The New York City police officers who turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio at the recent funerals of two slain officers were within their rights — no matter how boorish others (we included) think that behavior. What members of the force aren’t entitled to is not doing the job for which they get paid. In refusing to enforce the law, the police are jeopardizing public safety and undermining any claim they have for respect from the community.

Health care on a deadline

Gallup reported Wednesday that the national uninsured rate dropped to 15.5 percent of the nonelderly population, down from 20.8 percent a little over a year ago. Yes, the improving economy may have helped. But that’s also the period in which the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, began phasing in. Eventually the law is likely to cut the proportion of nonelderly Americans without health insurance to something like 11 percent, the residual number explained in part because the ACA doesn’t cover illegal immigrants. Twenty-six million people will have gained coverage.

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The final word

Several publishers in Western countries have disgraced themselves in recent years with self-censorship to avoid being targeted by Islamic militants. The French newspaper Charlie Hebdo did the opposite: Even after its offices were firebombed in 2011, and even after its editor was put on an al-Qaida wanted list, it continued to courageously publish cartoons and articles lampooning Islam — as well as Christianity, Judaism and established religion in general.

Immigration inertia

Republicans howled in November when President Barack Obama used his executive powers to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, accusing him of usurping Congress’ powers. Yet as the GOP lays out its agenda for the new Congress, Republicans have had nothing useful to say about their own plans for addressing the problem of the 11 million immigrants who lack documentation.

A 21st-century Supreme Court

“On November 10, 1893, The Washington Post identified an emerging technology that was reshaping American society: Pneumatics!” This is how Chief Justice John Roberts began his 2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, in which he announced a long-overdue move to put court documents online. But he stopped well short of embracing other obvious improvements, such as live video or audio from the Supreme Court chamber. “The courts will always be prudent whenever it comes to embracing the ‘next big thing,’ ” he wrote.

Repression continues in Cuba

A Cuban performance artist named Tania Bruguera planned a simple event for Tuesday: She would set up a microphone in Havana’s Revolution Square and invite anyone who wished to step up and talk about the country’s future. Dozens of dissidents planned to participate under the slogan “I also demand” — which might be taken as an allusion to their exclusion from the secret normalization negotiations conducted by the Obama administration and the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro.

Petrobras scandal gusher could drown Rousseff and Brazil

Petrobras, Brazil’s state-run oil giant, is now engulfed in a scandal befitting its size — a multibillion-dollar miasma of bribery, larceny and political chicanery. How newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff responds may decide not only her fate but also, to exaggerate only slightly, that of Brazil itself.