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Editorial

Congress should act to close the metadata gaps

Of all of Edward Snowden’s revelations about electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, the most unsettling was that the government was accumulating vast numbers of records about the telephone calls of American citizens. In May, the House approved a bill that would end the bulk collection of so-called telephone metadata, but time is running out for the Senate to approve a similar — and we hope stronger — version of the legislation.

Keeping Cold War buried

International outrage over the downing of a Malaysian passenger plane over Ukraine on July 17 does not appear to have affected either the actions of pro-Russia forces in that country or the material support Russia is offering the rebels. On Wednesday, the separatists apparently shot down two Ukrainian warplanes flying near the border with Russia. Then on Thursday, the U.S. accused Russia of firing artillery from its territory into Ukraine.

Tunnel vision in Mideast

The distinguishing feature of the latest war between Israel and Hamas is “offensive tunnels,” as the Israeli army calls them. As of early Wednesday, 28 had been uncovered in Gaza, and nearly half extend into Israel, according to Israeli officials. The tunnels are the reason that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu decided last weekend to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, and they explain why that operation has strong support from Israelis in spite of the relatively heavy casualties it has inflicted. Most significantly, the tunnels show why it has been difficult to reach a cease-fire and why any accord must forge a new political and security order in Gaza.

Take the cool out of Kools

To buy cigarettes in Australia, you have to pick up a dull green package plastered with photos of a shriveled infant, a blackened lung or an old man with a tracheotomy hole in his throat. You also need to look closely because the only difference among brands is the name in a small, prescribed font on the bottom quarter of the pack. This arrangement, implemented in 2012, made Australia the first nation both to require graphic images and ban enticing logos on cigarette packs.

U.S. needs fresh ideas for a new kind of unemployment

The U.S. labor market is still a long way from healed. The unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, down from 10 percent in 2009, is misleading: Long-term unemployment accounts for a much bigger share of the total than usual. Millions who would like full-time jobs are having to work part time. And millions more have given up looking for work and are no longer part of the count.

The heavy burden of college aid

Return on investment is a clear measure of what you get for your money. Incredibly, the federal government doesn’t apply that simple concept to the $137 billion a year it spends on college financial aid.

Widening the loopholes for business

This past week, two more U.S. companies moved to re-establish themselves overseas, allowing them to pursue lower corporate tax rates. They will join dozens of others who have chased lower tax bills abroad while maintaining operations in the United States, benefiting from the U.S. business climate, legal stability and research investments without helping to pay for these advantages. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew pressed Congress on Tuesday to close the avenues in U.S. law that allow companies to evade corporate taxes by moving to foreign countries.

Downing aircraft a heinous crime

In recent days there has been abundant evidence of Russia stepping up supplies of heavy weapons to rebels in eastern Ukraine, including advanced anti-aircraft systems. The Kiev government reported that two of its military aircraft were shot down in the past week, either by separatists, Russian planes or batteries operating from across the border. On Thursday came a greater tragedy: the destruction of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet with 298 people aboard. Ukrainian authorities charged that it had been struck by a missile fired by a Russian-made surface-to-air battery supplied to Moscow’s Ukrainian proxies.

No relief on the debt

Washington has taken an indefinite break from the budget debate that marked the early part of this decade. No one’s expecting a grand bargain any time soon. Nor a small bargain, nor even serious incremental reform. Deficits have come down from their historic highs during the Great Recession and its aftermath. Health care costs have not risen as quickly in the last few years, helping to right the country’s fiscal balance and making the long-term budget outlook a bit more manageable.

Enough with these highway-spending gimmicks from Congress

It’s not quite fair to call this a do-nothing Congress. It’s really a do-the-bare-minimum-at-the-last-possible-moment-to-keep-the-country-from-actually-collapsing Congress. The handling of the Highway Trust Fund provides the latest master class in this debauched style of government.

‘Dental therapists’ could give more Americans the care they need

In 2009, 830,000 visits to emergency rooms around the country could have been prevented if the patients had seen a dentist earlier. In 2011, more than half of children on Medicaid went without dental care. These facts lie behind the story of Deamonte Driver, a Prince George’s County, Md., seventh-grader who died of a preventable infection that spread from his mouth to his brain in 2007. Maryland pushed through some reforms following Deamonte’s death, but the situation across the country has not dramatically improved.

Latest Fed minutes misunderstood by investors again

The gap between what the Federal Reserve says about monetary policy and what investors think it’s saying would be funny if it weren’t so important. Most of this gap is the listeners’ fault — but not all. The Fed could do a better job of explaining itself.

New Jersey’s experiment worth trying

New Jersey’s Senate approved a raise in the legal smoking age from 19 to 21 last week, pushing the groundbreaking experiment in public health one step closer to fruition. The bill, which the General Assembly will consider in the fall, would make New Jersey the first state to prohibit the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone younger than 21. It is designed to cut teenage exposure to tobacco, since about 90 percent of regular smokers have their first cigarette before turning 18. A few localities, such as New York City and the Hawaii County, already raised the age.

Douse the fire in Gaza

The latest mini-war between Israel and the Hamas movement is as unwinnable for either side as previous rounds in 2009 and 2012. Though it has stockpiled thousands of rockets and some longer-range missiles, Hamas lacks the ability to inflict serious damage or casualties; a new anti-missile system has blocked most of the warheads headed toward Tel Aviv and other populous areas. Israel, for its part, can target Hamas commanders and infrastructure in Gaza but probably can’t entirely silence the rocket launchers. A ground invasion of Gaza, for which troops are now being mustered, would cause heavy casualties and, if it destroyed Hamas, leave Israel with the task of governing the territory and its nearly 2 million people.

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Installing a privacy update

A unanimous Supreme Court declared Wednesday that, in the face of new technology that has reshaped daily life, it will not “mechanically” apply old legal doctrines that offer Americans too little protection in novel digital circumstances.

U.S. needs to press Egypt — on freedom of the press and other rights

On Sunday, after a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, Secretary of State John F. Kerry suggested that Sisi should be given time to respond to U.S. complaints about human rights violations. After all, Kerry noted, Sisi had been in office for “only 10 days.” (Never mind that Sisi, a former general who overthrew Egypt’s previous president in a coup last year, was the de facto leader of the country even before he was elected president in May.)

Going against the wind

The Supreme Court on Monday largely upheld one piece of the Obama administration’s increasingly ambitious response to the threat of climate change. This is the third time in a decade that the court has validated the Environmental Protection Agency’s wide power to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions — power the agency derives not from presidential whim but from the Clean Air Act. It probably will not be the last.

Giving us hope for the oceans

Humanity depends on the oceans, but their worsening state gets little attention. Good for Secretary of State John F. Kerry, then, for trying to elevate the issue last week in an international oceans conference in Washington. The conference produced a billion dollars in pledges for ocean programs, promises from other nations to better protect their marine ecosystems and the news that President Barack Obama will set aside a vast portion of U.S. waters in the central Pacific for ecological conservation. That’s all to the good. But the health of the oceans — sources of employment, recreation and food for billions — depends on what Kerry and those like him can get other nations to do.

Iraqi Kurds deserve more independence, not their own state

In the lightning takeover of swaths of Iraq by Sunni jihadists, primarily the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, one beneficiary is already clear: the Kurds. The Kurdish Peshmerga, easily the most disciplined military in the country, has filled a vacuum left by the flight of the Iraqi military in many areas, especially those considered historically Kurdish. Never has the dream of an independent Kurdish state been closer.

Solving border crisis

This country benefits from a healthy, legal flow of fresh talent and energy from all over the world. For that, a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration laws, including a path to legalized status for those already here illegally, is essential.

A victory for tolerance

Shortly after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced Wednesday that it was canceling the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration because the team name disparages Native Americans, team owner Dan Snyder waved off a reporter’s question about the decision and walked away. Snyder plans to appeal; even if he loses, he won’t be barred from using the Redskins name. But Snyder would be smart to take this as an opportunity. He is kidding himself if he thinks concerns about the continued use of an offensive name can be waved away as easily as a reporter’s question.

Scalia’s uncommon sense on straw purchases of guns

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has just slyly pointed out how crazy U.S. gun laws are. Scalia’s typically scathing dissent in the court’s 5-4 decision this week prohibiting straw buyers from purchasing guns, along with the majority’s suspiciously reasonable opinion, exposes Congress’s legislative failure.

A smarter way to help students

It’s an election year, and Democrats are loudly decrying the cost of higher education and demanding the government spend more to cut student debt. The Senate on Wednesday rejected one of their less-sensible ideas. But there are better ones that lawmakers should embrace.