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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.

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.”

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 cheerfulness of tax reform

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” — Mr. Micawber in “David Copperfield”

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.

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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.

In Ferguson, where next?

WASHINGTON — My hometown of St. Louis has given up its sad secrets. Journalists — like tourists taking in the sights of social dysfunction — have explored its courthouses, its speed traps, its racial tensions and its redlined housing history. Cable television has carried images of burning cars and tear gas, which better qualify as “breaking news” than clergy-led marches and civic dialogue. From the coverage, one would think a whole city walks on broken glass. Perhaps it does.

Sewage disposal — a shared responsibility

The Nov. 19 issue of West Hawaii Today reported some residents of a Kona subdivision are objecting to sewer hook-up fees estimated at $19,000 in combined county plus contractor fees, plus monthly bills after connection. The Nov. 8 issue reported the county is having trouble collecting those bills, but is unable to suspend sewer service to delinquent customers. Previous articles and letters have reported widespread resistance to a proposed state policy that would require all property owners on cesspool to convert to septic upon sale of their properties.

Thanks, or something

WASHINGTON — Before the tryptophan in the turkey induces somnolence, give thanks for living in such an entertaining country. This year, for example, we learned that California’s Legislature includes 93 individuals who seem never to have had sex. They enacted the “affirmative consent” law directing college administrators to tell students sexual consent cannot be silence but must be “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement” and “ongoing throughout a sexual activity.” Claremont McKenna College requires “all” — not “both,” which would discriminate against groups — participants in a sexual engagement to understand withdrawal of consent can be any behavior conveying “that an individual is hesitant, confused, uncertain.”

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.

‘Emperor’ Obama’s immigration frustration

Republican fury over President Barack Obama’s drastic executive action on immigration distracts from the most obvious solution: the sensible compromise senators from both parties passed more than 500 days ago, only to have it bottled up by Speaker John Boehner in the House.