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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.

A Texas-sized plate dispute

WASHINGTON — The Battle of Palmito Ranch near Brownsville, Texas, on May 13, 1865, is called the last battle of the Civil War, but the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) might consider that judgment premature, given its conflict with the state’s Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles. This skirmish is of national interest because it implicates a burgeoning new entitlement — the right to pass through life without encountering any disagreeable thought.

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.

Obama’s Boehner bailout

WASHINGTON — How often will President Barack Obama come to House Speaker John Boehner’s rescue even when Republican leaders aren’t willing to give much in return? And does the president want to preside over a split in his party?

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.

The arrogance of liberal elites

WASHINGTON — Jonathan Gruber — the source of more smoking guns than the battle of Gettysburg — recently appeared before a hostile House committee. The good professor, you might recall, is an MIT economist who played a significant (and paid) role in producing and defending the Affordable Care Act. He also later admitted, in an astonishing variety of settings, that the law was written in a “tortured way” to hide tax increases and other flaws. “Lack of transparency,” he cheerfully conceded, “is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

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Ferguson and the media circus

WASHINGTON — As the curtain closes on the latest episode of “Ferguson,” the media series, it is fair to wonder whether events might not have spiraled out of control to the extent they did had the media settled on another topic.

Stabilizing Syria must be done

Under pressure from allies, the Obama administration appears to be creeping toward a correction of its strategy in Syria. If so — and officials stress that President Barack Obama has made no decisions and none is imminent — the change would be welcome. The president has been counting on moderate Syrian forces to fight the Islamic State while refusing to address the threat those forces face from the regime of Bashar Assad. That policy has prompted Turkey to withhold vital cooperation and, more seriously, has risked the destruction of U.S. allies, who have been losing territory to both the Assad regime and Islamic extremist groups.

Obama has already won the immigration fight

WASHINGTON — Among the many ways Republican members of Congress are contemplating to punish President Barack Obama for his executive actions on immigration is a proposal of elegant simplicity: They would refuse to invite him to the Capitol to give his State of the Union address.

The spy inside

Dangers are growing in cyberspace. Not only are thieves learning to siphon off millions of credit card numbers and email addresses but elaborate pieces of malware are capable of spying on whole organizations for long periods of time, capturing computer screens, keystrokes and data, transmitting it all to distant servers without being detected.

A monument to idleness

Mere days before a scheduled Dec. 11 deadline, the ever-fractious Republican House may be arriving at a consensus, of sorts, on immigration, taxes and spending. The speaker of the House, John A. Boehner, R-Ohio,, has said his GOP majority would be willing to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September, except for the Department of Homeland Security, which would be funded only through February — as a protest against what Republicans consider President Barack Obama’s unconstitutional order to defer deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the probable next chairman of the House tax-policy committee, has offered a one-year, backward-looking reauthorization of more than 50 mostly corporate tax breaks — a “tax extender” bill — to cover the 2014 filing year.

Another case for term limits

WASHINGTON — In 2010, Plymouth, Conn., was awarded $430,000 for widening sidewalks and related matters near two schools. This money was a portion of the $612 million Congress authorized for five years of the federal Safe Routes to School program intended to fight childhood obesity by encouraging children to burn calories by walking or biking to school. Really.