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The Westboro Baptist Church, those hateful wingnuts who conduct anti-gay protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers and Marines, have announced they’ll do the same at services for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. In Pakistan this week, UN workers giving polio vaccines to children were shot dead by gunmen. And then, of course, there were the murders at Sandy Hook themselves. How is it possible to go on with our normal lives in the face of news, and people, like this?

It would seem like the only two sane reactions are to...

December 21, 2012

It’s easy as you get older to look at the front page and think you’ve seen every headline before. In today's Washington Post are stories on the negotiations over the federal budget, displeasure about Israeli settlements, and an analysis of the gun control debate. Change the names and move the decimal points, and all of those articles would have fit comfortably on the front page of any American newspaper in 1975. So reading them in the wrong state of mind leaves you with the feeling that we’ve gotten nowhere.

But a closer look at each of...

December 19, 2012

Lately, many Republican political leaders are making decisions that are emotionally understandable -- but politically and ideologically odd. Few issues unite Republicans like a desire for lower taxes. Yet conservative members of the House of Representatives seem to be choosing tax cuts for no one over tax cuts for 98% of Americans. The only advantage of the former option is that the House members don't have to vote for it, it will happen automatically. They are still causing most people’s taxes to rise by their actions, since there is an offer...

December 14, 2012

Why is it that fundamentalist Christians vote overwhelmingly Republican? In the most basic sense, you would assume people who live their lives by the example of Jesus Christ would adhere more to the political party that promotes generous social welfare and care for the poor, rather than one which stresses self-reliance and is associated with a stronger military. Evangelical Christianity is one of the best demographic predictors of voting in presidential elections. It is more powerful than age, income, or gender. (It is not as powerful as...

December 13, 2012

At the very end of November, weeks after the election, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. economy “grew at a 2.7 percent annual rate from July through September, much faster than first thought.”  That sort of thing happened several times this year. In one case, a revised report showed that many more jobs had been created than initially reported. Aside from the nice economic news, these changes represent an astonishing (and common) sign of honest professionalism in our government.

Take a step back and think of what would have...

December 12, 2012

Before Saturday’s rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao received a visit from Mitt Romney, who had front row seats for the fight. Jokes about bad omens aside (Pacquiao lost), it was good to see Romney at the event. Presumably he went because he likes boxing, and it’s nice that after six years of doing things because they might help him politically, he is able to attend an event just because he think it might be fun. Boxing is also a pretty iffy endeavor, associated with gambling, crime, head injuries, and colorfully seedy promoters. ...

December 10, 2012

Commenting on Senator Jim DeMint’s move to the Heritage Foundation, conservative columnist John Podhoretz refers to one of Heritage’s policy “blind spots:” backing a healthcare mandate in 1994. That support resulted in much back-tracking and apologizing from Heritage when the mandate became a centerpiece of President Obama’s healthcare reform plan. All of which raises an important question about conservative intellectual rigor.

Starting in about the 1980s, conservatives prided themselves on having the leadership in policy development and...

December 07, 2012

Republicans in the House are looking for a way out of their predicament. They need a way to satisfy their conservative base who are strongly opposed to tax increases for anyone, while dealing with the reality that opposing the President on this will mean that taxes go up for everyone on January 1, 2013. They are seeking a way to be against the President’s plan and have it happen anyway -- and some Republicans seem to think they’ve found a way. Here’s how the Washington Post describes it:

The Republican-controlled House could adopt two...

December 06, 2012

Recent polls have shown that if the fiscal cliff negotiations fail, the public will mostly blame Republicans, not the President.  And several commentators have claimed that having the public on your side is the ultimate leverage in Washington. If it were a presidential election year, they might be right. But in our system of government, as it has evolved, there is a something even more important.

In Congress, the ultimate leverage is with the side that benefits most from doing nothing. Since Republicans can block any bill by not scheduling...

December 05, 2012

It’s tempting to wonder if there’s something about Boston. Of the last fourteen men to be nominated for president by a major party, three have come from Massachusetts: Michael Dukakis in 1988, John Kerry in 2004, and Mitt Romney in 2012. That means more than 20% of the nominees in the last quarter century have come from one state – a place with 2% of the U.S. population. And each of them lost.

Is it simply a coincidence that the Bay State has given us ten times as many presidential finalists as is statistically expected, or that all of...

December 04, 2012

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