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Fight poverty, not savings, by fixing welfare asset rules

Some welfare programs exclude people who have financial assets, and for good reason. If the goal is to help people who are living in poverty, the program shouldn’t waste resources on people who aren’t actually poor. If you lose your job but have enough money in the bank to tide you over comfortably, you don’t need food stamps, disability payments or other forms of public support as much as people with no savings do.

What’s the Afghanistan endgame?

President Barack Obama’s announcement this past week that he will delay the withdrawal of some 4,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan is an acceptable course correction. Keeping troop levels at their current strength will allow the United States to continue training Afghan forces while also helping with counter-terrorism efforts, officials said. If those efforts help stabilize the country and prepare it for the moment when the U.S. withdraws for good, that’s fine with us.

‘Doc fix’ fixed?

The House of Representatives passed Thursday a major piece of Medicare legislation with strong support from the leadership and rank and file of both parties. Yes, you read that right: The House voted on a package that permanently eliminates the expensive annual budgetary charade known as the “doc fix,” while enacting tens of billions of dollars worth of structural reforms to the massive program for seniors — and providing a two-year, $5.6 billion dollop of funding to an important children’s health care program to boot. For their labors in moving this bill to passage, we’d pat House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Calif., on the back — if they weren’t already doing so themselves.

Staying in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced a much-needed adjustment in his plans for drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, telling visiting President Ashraf Ghani that a scheduled halving of the 9,800 currently deployed troops by the end of this year would be set aside, and the force maintained into next year. This was a sensible response by Obama to a range of developments, including Ghani’s impressive efforts to improve relations with Washington. But the adjustment still falls short of what will be needed to give the new Afghan government a reasonable chance of success.

A boost for defense

Two pieces of good news about U.S. defense spending: Both President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans have recognized that cuts imposed by the 2011 “sequester” scheme are unacceptable, and both have moved to restore tens of billions of dollars in funding for next year’s budget. Two pieces of bad news: The proposed increases still face thorny political challenges — and even the revised spending plan remains far from adequate at a time when the United States has returned to war in the Middle East and faces mounting threats elsewhere.

Presidential debates should include 3-party candidates

Most Americans want a third party, which probably explains why leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties have conspired for the past three decades to exclude third-party candidates from the presidential debates. Never mind how unlikely a third- party victory may be, they say. Keep those interlopers away from the cameras!

Congress must solve the doc fix to cure U.S. health care

Congress is within reach of trashing the old and unworkable formula that Medicare uses to pay doctors. By itself, this is what it sounds like — a bureaucratic maneuver that matters little to anyone but the doctors who treat Medicare patients. The system that Congress replaces it with, however, could represent a big step forward in improving the quality, and lowering the cost, of everyone’s health care.

In Syria, diplomacy is failing but humanitarian aid must not

At this point, the best solution to the staggeringly brutal but seemingly stalemated civil war in Syria is probably a diplomatic one. But with support for Syrian President Bashar Assad by China and, more reliably, Russia, diplomacy so far has failed. As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, they have exercised their vetoes four times to block actions against Syria, including one that would have referred war crime allegations to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. They did sign off on resolutions calling on member nations to supply humanitarian aid to Syria, demanding an end to attacks on civilians and authorizing aid workers to enter Syria without Assad’s permission. But human rights groups and a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon say member nations have failed to deliver. And Assad and various rebel forces continue to target civilians, observers say.

Who loses as Netanyahu wins?

Benjamin Netanyahu chose to call an early election in Israel in the hope that he could strengthen his hold on power. On Wednesday he appeared to have achieved his aim, but only after striking troubling positions that alarmed Israel’s neighbors and its Western allies — and that could come back to haunt his next government.

Fiscal phonies

Here’s the United States’ fiscal predicament in a nutshell: Under current law, the publicly held debt of the federal government will increase by 4.5 percent of gross domestic product over the next decade, to a historically anomalous 78.7 percent of GDP. Thereafter, the debt will grow steadily, exceeding 100 percent of GDP in 2039, due chiefly to medical and retirement programs for an aging population, plus interest payments. The Congressional Budget Office, which produced these forecasts, says this scenario would have “significant negative consequences for both the economy and the federal budget.” It’s a future in which entitlements and interest gradually squeeze out core functions of the national government such as defense, law enforcement, national parks and basic research.

A costly farm bill

Remember how backers of the 2014 farm bill promised that it would reform costly and wasteful agriculture subsidies and save taxpayers money? And remember how the critics of the bill said it was basically a scheme to repackage and perpetuate the old system, potentially at a higher cost? Well, it turns out that the critics were right, according to the first comprehensive estimate of the bill’s impact.

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Anger at bankers doesn’t make finance industry any safer

The 2008 crash and its consequences proved beyond a doubt the need for stronger and smarter regulation of banking and finance. Getting this right remains a challenge, but there’s been progress. One worsening obstacle to intelligent rule-making, though, should be cleared away before it becomes a bigger nuisance than it is already — and that’s a lazy, ill-founded prejudice against the finance industry and its workers.

Republicans fumble their chance to focus attention on an Iran deal

Congressional Republicans are trying to obstruct President Barack Obama from concluding a nuclear agreement with Iran, but the only tangible result of their efforts has been to impede serious debate about the legitimate issues arising from the potential deal. The latest GOP gambit, an open letter to Iran’s leaders disparaging any accord not approved by Congress, prompted predictable blasts of rhetoric from the White House, the Senate caucuses and even the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, but not a word of discussion about what the Republicans say worries them: whether the terms being offered to Iran by the Obama administration are in the United States’ interest.

Congress can improve Obama war plan against Islamic State

On Wednesday, Congress will finally get a chance to take responsibility for its part in the global war against Islamic extremism. Or, to put it another way: On Wednesday, Congress will no longer be able to avoid responsibility for its part in the global war against Islamic extremism. It cannot afford to waste the opportunity.

Viewpoint: End impediments, injurious opposition to public sports shooting complex

Dedicated Hawaiian sportsmen (On Target Inc.) have been working tirelessly to promote and develop a much-needed safe public sports shooting complex on the Big Island. Over two decades of untold hours have been devoted to seeking range approval despite objections and roadblocks asserted by a small hotel-oriented contingent of selfishly motivated detractors and opponents — namely, the Kohala Coast Resort Association which has orchestrated a campaign of intentional delay. The apparent goal is to derail this much-needed public endeavor; despite the project receiving state agency approval and preliminary budgeting.

Democrats should challenge Clinton

The relentless controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of e-mail during her time as secretary of state raises a question: If her candidacy for president (not yet announced, but widely assumed) falters or implodes — as sometimes happens to front-runners— will her party have an alternative? For voters’ sake, the answer should be yes. That’s just one reason Democratic politicians — the more, the merrier — should take on the daunting task of challenging Clinton for the nomination.

Tikrit fight shows the U.S. can’t lead from behind in Iraq

As the U.S. stands aside while Iran-backed militiamen lead the fight to recapture the Iraqi town of Tikrit, it’s hard to know if it would be worse for them to win this battle against Islamic State or to lose. What is clear is that the U.S. and its allies should be playing a stronger role in the war against Islamic State to keep Iraq from polarizing.

Talk is cheap

President Barack Obama in February rolled out a plan to impose stricter rules on brokers and others who help people invest their retirement savings — necessitated, he says, by widespread conflicts of interest that may be costing savers up to $17 billion per year in lost earnings. The chief targets, Mr. Obama said, are financial advisers who base their advice on what’s best for their own compensation rather than on what would maximize returns for their customers.

The nukes in North Korea

The caricature of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un as a clownish figure and his nation as reckless, backwards and isolated is unhelpful in trying discern the reality of the Pyongyang regime and judge the dangers both to its own population and to those beyond its borders. The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, as it is formally named, is most certainly a modern human rights disaster, as the United Nations Commission of Inquiry has exposed. And there can be no question that North Korea remains cut off from the powerful currents of economic and information globalization that have swept the globe.