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Editorial

Portman-Shaheen legislation could be a jump-start in the Senate

When a carefully built, bipartisan energy bill failed in the Senate in May, it was one of the worst instances of unwarranted Washington gridlock. By the same token, precisely because it is so sensible and enjoyed such bipartisan support, it offers one of the most obvious ways for Congress’ new leaders to break Washington’s holding pattern on policy and to help the country.

A job for Congress

Even with 3 percent growth last quarter and unemployment at 5.8 percent, the lowest rate since the summer of 2008, Americans still worry about the economy and with good reason.

Shut the door to cyberthreats

Six years ago, the federal government’s classified computer networks were infiltrated by a tiny bit of malware. A massive operation known as Buckshot Yankee was carried out to clean the networks of the intruder and the event helped spur the creation of U.S. Cyber Command, which is now growing rapidly. The government has put cyberthreats at the top of its national security threat matrix.

Controlling the message in Russia

Among the main pillars that support Russian President Vladimir Putin’s power and outlook on the world — graft, cronyism, paranoia and resentment at Moscow’s diminished post-Soviet stature — it’s hard to overstate the importance he attaches to propaganda. To the Kremlin leader, who cut his teeth as a KGB apparatchik, information is an important instrument of control, influence and intimidation; Western-style journalism and the free flow of news are anathema.

Beyond gridlock: Delivering the Postal Service

Of all the tasks confronting the newly elected Congress, none is more basic, in terms of plain old democratic governance, than reforming the U.S. Postal Service. This workhorse agency, which epitomizes the federal government in the daily lives of ordinary citizens, is reeling from a double whammy: technological obsolescence and accumulated inefficiencies. Years of downsizing enabled the USPS to break even on its operations in fiscal 2013 (if you don’t count losses due to $5.6 billion in legally required retiree health care prepayments). Yet its bread-and-butter business, first-class mail, remains in long-term decline; the Postal Service’s only chance at a solvent future is to undertake further, more fundamental structural reform.

A test of bipartisanship

President Barack Obama on Saturday nominated Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to be the next attorney general. In so doing he set up an early test of whether Republicans are serious about governing in a spirit of cooperation.

We could be entering politics’ dark age

So-called dark-money groups spent 27 percent more on this year’s elections than they did in 2010, thanks to reckless Supreme Court decisions and regulatory failures allowing unlimited, undisclosed political contributions. The groups hide donors behind the tax code, disguising themselves as “social welfare” organizations. In fact, they are an increasingly powerful and poisonous political force.

Speeding up a trade deal

Now that Republicans have gained control of Congress, no policy area is riper for bipartisan action than trade. President Barack Obama’s trade representative, Michael Froman, is deeply engaged in trade-expansion talks with 11 Asia-Pacific nations, including Japan. A bipartisan legislative framework for speeding passage of a finished agreement has already been written.

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The last straw for big soda?

It’s a match made in nanny-state heaven. Having failed to ban Big Gulps in New York City, former Big Apple mayor Michael Bloomberg has dumped $85,000 into the campaign in San Francisco to pass Measure E — a two-cent tax on all “sugary drinks.”

Unraveling a peril in Bangladesh

It has been more than a year since Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza building collapsed, killing 1,138 garment industry workers who had been crammed into an unsafe building. American and European retailers promised to insist on better conditions in the factories they buy from. But they still have a long way to go: A consortium of European companies announced last week that they found more than 80,000 safety problems in the 1,106 factories they inspected since the Rana Plaza disaster. More than a tenth of the facilities were so bad that they required immediate retrofitting for production to proceed — or even evacuation.

The ‘red line’ gets dimmer in Syria

One grim indication that the regime of Bashar Assad has been emboldened by the U.S. air campaign in Syria is the fresh reports of chemical weapons attacks on civilian areas. The Institute for the Study of War has compiled 18 allegations by Syrian sources of chlorine gas attacks by the regime since U.S. strikes against the Islamic State began in August. The first strike was reported Aug. 19 — the same day that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it had completed the neutralization of the chemical weapons stockpile surrendered by the regime. The most recent was reported last week, when government forces allegedly used chlorine gas against rebel positions in the suburban Damascus area of Jobar.

The Islamic State’s appeal

Western leaders sometimes suggest that the Islamic State is its own worst enemy, so extreme in doctrine and practice that it will galvanize opposition within the Islamic world. While that is proving true to some extent — Muslim governments, senior clerics and even other jihadist groups have joined the fight against the would-be caliphate — the sobering truth is that the Islamic State also has picked up popular support and the allegiance of other militants in countries as far away as Algeria and Pakistan.

Holding firm on Ukraine

Western leaders boast that the sanctions slapped on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine are inflicting real pain, and that’s true — even if Russia’s macroeconomic indicators still don’t look worse than those of France, Italy or even Germany. But there’s no indication that the punishment is having a salutary effect on Vladimir Putin. In a quick but high-profile trip to meet leaders in Milan last week, the Russian ruler was no more disposed than he has been to retreat from Ukraine or his larger neoimperialist agenda.

Gillespie’s plan would be worse than Affordable Care Act

Republicans calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, are a dime a dozen. Fewer offer a plan to replace the law with something they claim would work better. To his credit, Virginia’s Ed Gillespie, a GOP Senate candidate, is in the more select group. Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, Sen. Mark Warner, favors tweaking the law without upsetting its framework.

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.