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Editorial

Putin should worry about the price of oil, not ‘blackmail’

Last week, as falling oil prices have hammered the Russian economy, President Vladimir Putin has warned repeatedly that his country, a nuclear superpower, must not be “blackmailed.” He was talking about economic sanctions, but there is a different lesson he should be drawing right now and it has nothing to do with the United States or the European Union.

Ebola is no one’s ‘fault’

The ebola virus reached this country at the height of the 2014 campaign, so perhaps it was inevitable that the political parties would try to exploit it. To Republicans, the situation proves once again that President Barack Obama has failed to protect Americans. In one of the milder versions of this allegation, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal published an op-ed faulting Obama for spending Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resources on grants for exercise and healthy diets rather than fighting infectious disease. Some Democrats say, meanwhile, that we wouldn’t have to worry about Ebola if not for budget cuts to the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, for which the GOP alone is to blame. As one especially inflammatory TV ad puts it: “Republican cuts kill.”

Yemen unravels

President Barack Obama cited Yemen as a model for U.S. operations against the Islamic State last month, not long after he told an interviewer that the intervention in Libya was his greatest foreign policy regret. In fact, the two countries offer similar lessons in the deficiencies of Obama’s strategy. By backing local forces with airpower in Libya, the United States and its allies were able to overthrow a murderous regime — but, as Obama acknowledged, the failure to assist with building a state afterward has facilitated Libya’s collapse into chaos.

Overcoming the ‘new mediocre’

It’s never wise to base policy on the gyrations of the stock market, but the sell-off on Wall Street this week reflects investors’ increasing nervousness about global economic growth — and their fears are not unfounded. To the contrary, the International Monetary Fund’s forecasters describe the global recovery as “disappointing” and “uneven” and have reduced their 2014 growth projection for the world economy downward, from 3.7 percent in April to 3.4 percent now. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warns of a “new mediocre” in economic performance. Behind that lapidary phrase is a human reality of joblessness, stagnant wages and frustrated hopes.

A square deal in Hong Kong

Pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong persist in part because of the self-defeating way local authorities — and their masters in Beijing — have responded to them. More than once the encampments on downtown streets have started to dwindle as unfinished schoolwork and sleep-deprivation take their toll on the middle-class student protesters. Then authorities dispatch police or groups of thugs to attack barricades, as happened on Monday and again on Tuesday. Or they abruptly announce the cancellation of talks they had previously agreed to, as happened last week. In each case, the response has been a resurgence of people to the streets and the erection of new blockades.

Federal government gets sued for saving AIG

Former Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke found himself facing tough questioning in a federal courtroom last week, and he seemed “none too pleased about it,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. Bernanke’s interrogator was a lawyer for Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former chief executive (and a major shareholder) of insurance giant AIG, who is suing the U.S. government on the grounds that its 2008 bailout of the firm violated his constitutional rights. Bernanke has said that the rescue of AIG, which ultimately involved $182 billion in government commitments, was a necessary evil that he and the Bush administration undertook only because AIG’s collapse would have imperiled the world economy. By his apparent demeanor in the courtroom, Bernanke communicated annoyance at Greenberg’s attempt to punish this good deed — and we don’t blame him.

Chinese leaders should allow Hong Kong voters more choice

With Hong Kong protest leaders calling their supporters out onto the streets again, there’s good reason to doubt whether talks with the government that were expected Friday will ever take place, let alone whether they could accomplish anything. Protesters’ demands for full democracy remain irreconcilable with Beijing’s decree that only China loyalists be allowed to stand for the city’s top office. Between those positions, however, lie solutions that could give Hong Kongers what they deserve: a freer choice of leaders. It would be foolish not to explore them, and soon.

Pay workers for time spent at security checkpoint

Imagine you’ve finished your shift, left your workstation, and as you exit the building you have to wait an additional 20 or 25 minutes to clear a security checkpoint set up by your employer to ensure that you aren’t stealing anything. Should you be paid for that time as part of your workday?

Reining in pensions

Here are the facts of life about the American public sector: Citizens depend on local government for vital services, from education to parks; the quantity and quality of those services depend directly on how many tax dollars are available to pay for them; and insofar as those resources are already committed to pensions and other forms of deferred compensation for public employees, they can’t be used to maintain and enhance services in the here and now.

IMF sends an urgent message about global recovery

If anyone was unaware of the challenges facing the global economy, the International Monetary Fund lays them out well in a new report. The extraordinary stimulus efforts of some of the world’s largest central banks haven’t been enough to produce a healthy global recovery and could be setting the stage for another financial disaster.

Paying for our wars

The cost of the new U.S. military operation in Iraq and Syria is already approaching $1 billion, according to a study released last week. The Pentagon has meanwhile launched a $750 million mission to fight Ebola in Africa and has committed to rotating U.S. troops through NATO countries bordering Russia. These are all justified initiatives with broad support from Congress and the public. But the budgetary foundation needed to sustain them is crumbling.

Congress must act to help children in need

Before there was an Affordable Care Act, the Children’s Health Insurance Program helped plug one of the many coverage holes in the nation’s health insurance system. At an annual cost of $13 billion, most of which comes from Congress and the rest from state governments, CHIP covers some 8 million children in families too well-off to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to afford private insurance. The uninsured rate for minors has fallen from 14 percent before the law’s enactment in 1997 to 7 percent today.

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Ebola: Don’t be scared. Be careful.

Federal officials announced Tuesday that a passenger who flew from Liberia to Dallas last month had become the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. On Wednesday came word that health officials are monitoring several more people for signs of illness, including five school children who had contact with the first Ebola patient.

Hold the line with Iran

The deadline for completing a nuclear agreement with Iran is now less than eight weeks away, and the omens are not good. U.S. officials had hoped that an intensive week of negotiations at the United Nations last month would open the way to a deal but, by the account of both sides, little headway was made. “The gaps are still serious,” said a U.S. official briefing reporters at the end of the talks. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was even blunter: “The progress realized thus far has not been significant.”

Congress’ confirmation dysfunction

The ink on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s resignation letter was hardly dry before members of Congress started bickering about his replacement. Lobbing overwrought criticism at Mr. Holder’s record, Republicans demanded that the country’s next top law enforcement officer eschew ideology and remain independent of the White House — and they tried to rule out filling the job quickly, before the next Senate sits in 2015. Holder, who has promised to lead the Justice Department until a replacement is confirmed, may be in office for many months yet.

California’s sensible new gun law can help reduce violence

It’s unlikely that California Gov. Jerry Brown had Colby Sue Weathers in mind when he signed Assembly Bill 1014 into law Tuesday. The law enables people to temporarily prevent mentally disturbed family members from possessing or purchasing guns. A so-called gun-violence restraining order, akin to the one used to obtain restraining orders in domestic violence cases, will allow police to search for and seize firearms.

The people’s party

Now that pro-democracy protests have shut large swaths of central Hong Kong, China’s leaders find themselves in a trap of their own making. Denying residents authentic democracy has not led to stability nor peace in the city-state. Crushing the demonstrations would do even more harm to the international reputation for freedom and the rule of law that has allowed Hong Kong to prosper as a semi-autonomous piece of the People’s Republic of China. The future of the city-state — and much more — rests on whether the Chinese central government realizes that its tight grip is ultimately counterproductive.

The law of the war

At the United Nations on Wednesday, President Barack Obama offered a powerful case for war against the Islamic State. “This group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria,” he said. “There can be no reasoning — no negotiation — with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”

Nations face challenge of how to de-radicalize terrorists

President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations Wednesday morning may have attracted more attention, but his chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council later in the day may have the more lasting impact. The council unanimously agreed to adopt his proposal for a more coordinated global effort to track and arrest so-called foreign fighters — thousands of whom have joined Islamic State and other jihadi groups. Now it’s time to start thinking about what to do with them once they’re in custody.