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Terrorists win a round over Sony’s ‘Interview’

If an anonymous group threatened in mid-December to harm bakeries without saying where, when or how, would every doughnut shop and cake vendor feel compelled to shut down through the holiday season? Of course not. Yet a threat by an anonymous group of hackers led the country’s major theater chains to close their doors to “The Interview,” Sony Pictures’ edgy comedy about a planned assassination of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The hackers are engaged in terrorism, pure and simple, in an effort to stop people from seeing the movie. But even though the terrorists won this round, Sony still can — and should — make the movie widely available through other means.

Restoration of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations is long overdue

Citing a half-century of failed policy, President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced he intends to normalize relations with Cuba, mending a rupture that dates to the chilliest days of the Cold War. While the move to restore diplomatic ties should not be taken as support for the Castro regime’s continuing human rights violations or its antidemocratic policies, it is undoubtedly the right step. Indeed, it is long overdue.

A Bush bonus that won’t die

The best that can be said for the “tax extenders” bill, approved in the waning days of the 113th Congress, is that it could have been much worse. After the November election, House and Senate leaders attempted to make all 55 special-interest tax breaks in the bill permanent instead of renewing them on a short-term basis, as per usual. The White House shot down that idea, which would have added more than $400 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade. Finally, all concerned settled on a $42 billion one-year renewal of the breaks, retroactive to Jan. 1, so that taxpayers can claim them on their 2014 returns — to be followed by a resumption of debate on broader tax reform in 2015.

Military action alone cannot defeat terrorism in Pakistan

After the massacre of 132 children Tuesday at a military-run school in Peshawar, no Pakistani should be under any illusions about the nature of the so-called Pakistani Taliban. Leaders across the political spectrum, including some like Imran Khan who have in the past called for negotiations with the militants, have expressed horror at the killings. Focusing solely on that despicable group, however, won’t make future generations of Pakistani children safe.

Credit for the Cromnibus

Both houses of Congress have voted to send the $1.1 trillion “Cromnibus” spending bill to President BarackObama, and the president has promised to sign the measure, though it’s not an easy creature to like. The massive bill represents a last-minute, must-pass caricature of the deliberative process by which Congress is supposed to approve appropriations. It comes studded with special-interest giveaways, including relaxations of Wall Street and campaign finance regulations that would have been unlikely to pass as stand-alone measures. For the District of Columbia, there’s an especially wounding abrogation of a marijuana legalization referendum.

War authorization against Islamic State should be one of Congress’ first acts

Among the business that Congress will leave unfinished this month is legal authorization of the war against the Islamic State. Though the war has been underway for five months, President Barack Obama has said he would welcome legislation, and congressional leaders have denounced the president’s unilateral actions in other spheres, neither the White House nor Congress has made a passage of an Authorization for Use of Military Force a priority. That puts the ongoing military operations on shaky legal ground and deprives them of the political mandate they ought to have.

Dystopia on the Caspian

The work of Khadija Ismayilova would be vital in any country but has been particularly courageous in Azerbaijan, the oil-rich sultanate ruled both before and after the Soviet collapse by Heydar Aliyev, who died in 2003, and now by his son, President Ilham Aliyev. In recent years, Ismayilova investigated the ruling family’s hidden wealth and unearthed evidence of how they acquired it through secret deals. Now, the potentates have struck back and moved to silence her, the latest example of how Azerbaijan has become a bleak dystopia for human rights and democracy.

Hollywood gets hacked

To get a taste for the havoc possible in today’s digital world, consider the recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. Intruders calling themselves “Guardians of Peace” claim to have broken into Sony’s networks and stolen around 100 terabytes — that’s 100,000 gigabytes — of financial information, budgets, payroll data, internal emails and feature films, and they have been slowly leaking excerpts to the public through file-sharing services. The materials have caused a sensation — revealing embarrassing details about executive salaries and secret movie negotiations — but the hack is also a worrisome moment in cybersecurity.

The good and the bad in Congress’ gargantuan spending bill

Let’s begin by thanking Congress for small favors: Top lawmakers from both parties have agreed on a $1.01 trillion spending bill that will fund all but one federal department through September, thereby averting a shutdown like the one that entangled Washington for 16 days last year. (The Department of Homeland Security will get enough cash to last only through February, as a sop to Republicans outraged by President Barack Obama’s unilateral decision to change immigration policy.) In addition to agency appropriations, the bill would provide billions in funding for such emergencies as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the war against the Islamic State.

America’s ‘dungeon’

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the CIA began taking prisoners captured in U.S. anti-terrorism operations. Some were tortured. This is not news. But a long-classified Senate report released Tuesday depicts the disgusting extremes.

FDA rules on calorie counts are appropriate and shouldn’t be controversial

It’s not always easy for restaurant-goers to figure out which options are the least fattening. Some diners at a California Pizza Kitchen, for example, might order the Moroccan-spiced chicken salad rather than a pizza, unaware that the salad packs 1,500 calories — three-fourths of the recommended allowance of calories for the average adult in an entire day. Few people would guess that pretty much any pizza on the CPK menu has significantly fewer calories, or that the restaurant offers a different salad with chicken that contains about half as many.

Staying on track

The U.S. labor market continues to heal. Employers created more than 300,000 new payroll jobs in November, the vast majority of them in the private sector. The unemployment rate remains at 5.8 percent, but there are signs that wages at last are growing again, at least modestly.

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Will Secure Communities work for immigration enforcement?

The federal government’s Secure Communities program has been as controversial as it has been counterproductive, so we’re glad the Obama administration’s new approach to immigration enforcement will mean the program’s demise. Yet we also harbor some skepticism about its successor, the Priority Enforcement Program — and wonder whether there will be much difference.

China’s tactics

China’s Communist authorities are nothing if not predictable. With a high-profile international summit hosted by President Xi Jinping this month behind them, they are ready for authorities in Hong Kong to crack down on a pro-democracy protest movement. On Tuesday and Wednesday, thousands of police wielding batons and pepper gas began clearing one of three sit-in sites, arresting hundreds of people — including two of the movement’s top leaders.

Fighting facts with fear in Russia

President Vladimir Putin has re-established dictatorship in Russia with a veneer of legality. The veneer doesn’t fool anyone who pays attention, nor is it really intended to do so; Putin prefers to rule through fear. But the pretense gives some cover to Putin’s apologists in the West and provides material for his increasingly surreal and aggressive propaganda campaign.

New face, fresh ideas in Pentagon

If the resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel augurs a move by President Barack Obama to shake up his national security team and reconsider his strategy in crisis areas such as Syria and Ukraine, then it will be welcomed. So far, there’s not much sign of it. Hagel has been a weak leader at the Pentagon who, at least in public, has been less of a force in policy discussions than some of the generals who report to him. But his thinly disguised dismissal came after reports he had raised sensible questions about Obama’s overly constrained approach to fighting the Islamic State.

Net neutrality and the Internet balancing act

Everyone from giant Internet service providers to lone “Twilight” fan-fiction writers seems to love “net neutrality.” But few who genuflect toward the phrase can make real sense of the bureaucratic battle raging in and around the Federal Communications Commission and its frequently maligned chairman, Thomas Wheeler.

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.