Watching another cycle of division and empire

Barack Obama evidently harbors the surreal hope that Vladimir Putin will continue to help the United States regarding Syria and Iran. Continue? Putin’s client in Damascus, Bashar Assad, is winning his civil war. And regarding attempts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Putin’s helpfulness, if not fictitious, has been ineffective.

The new tribalism and the decline of nations

Two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest — which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world. Nowadays members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives and Democrats) hold sharply different views than members of the other (conservatives, tea partiers and Republicans).

The wasted life of Fred Phelps

Most of us are not sorry Fred Phelps is dead, some of us are not glad, either. What we feel is probably best described as a certain dull pity. Phelps, the “God hates” guy who founded the Westboro Baptist Church, was given the gift, the incandescent miracle, of being alive for more than 80 years — and he wasted it, utterly.

The emptiness of the right side of history

I doubt Barack Obama and John Kerry have Marx or Hegel on the brain when they prattle on about the right and wrong sides of history. They more properly belong in what some call the “Whig school” of history, that the world progresses toward the inevitable victory of liberal democracy and social enlightenment. Still, this administration has used the “wrong side of history” phrase more than any I can remember.

With victory in sight, the GOP needs a smart action plan

Some Republicans are anticipating a “tsunami” in the upcoming midterm elections — with the hubris of weather reporting at a distance of seven months. But Republicans really only need a stiff wind to gain a Senate majority. How that victory is secured, however, will determine its meaning.

A chilling legacy links Soviet Putin and Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has been coarsened, in ways difficult for civilized people to understand, by certain continuities, institutional and emotional, with an almost unimaginably vicious past. And as Ukraine, a bubbling stew of tensions and hatreds, struggles with its identity and aspirations, Americans should warily remember William Faulkner’s aphorism: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Worker pay remains seriously out of whack

Fifty years ago, when General Motors was the largest employer in America, the typical GM worker got paid $35 an hour in today’s dollars. Today, America’s largest employer is Walmart, and the typical Walmart worker earns $8.80 an hour.

Time to launch serious foreign policy moves to stop Vladimir Putin

For the last five years, President Barack Obama’s fruitless accommodationism has invited the kind of aggressiveness demonstrated by Russia in Ukraine. But what’s done is done. What is to be done now? We have three objectives. In ascending order of difficulty: Reassure NATO. Deter further Russian incursion into Ukraine. Reverse the annexation of Crimea.

Stop making excuses for Justin Bieber

Pop star Justin Bieber is hardly the first person to be famous — or, for that matter, to become famous while young. And while that proves toxic for some, others seem to handle it just fine. What we see in Bieber seems to say less about celebrity than about one of its unfortunate byproducts: entitlement. Has anyone ever held this kid accountable for anything?

President Obama owns some blame for millennial cynicism

The hot embers of millennials' ardor for big government may cool as they see the poetry rarely becomes prose. And for that, President Barack Obama will deserve a fair share of credit. For nothing breeds disillusionment and cynicism more than the failure to deliver.

The wages of weakness empower Vladimir Putin to act

Can Russian President Vladimir Putin be faulted for believing that if he bites off Crimea and threatens Kiev, President Barack Obama’s response will be minimal and his ability to lead the Europeans even less so? Would Putin have lunged for Ukraine if he didn’t have such a clueless adversary? No one can say for sure. But it certainly made Putin’s decision easier.

Laughter and grief belong together

Isn’t it interesting that these things that matter so much in life, things we argue about, labels that define and divide us in the years when our eyes are bright and horizons endless, matter so little when death arrives? Maybe that’s the biggest joke of all.

Simpler is not really better for college tests

When the going gets tough, well, why not just make the going easier? This seems to be the conclusion of the College Board, which administers the dreaded SAT college entrance exam. Board officials recently announced test “improvements” to better gauge what students actually study and learn in high school.

President Obama is wrong on the Cold War and wrong on Putin

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, has said that the collapse of the evil empire was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. That alone should have been a clue to the Obama White House that misspelled reset buttons weren’t going to cut it. But they were too stuck in the past to see it.

The poor consequences of a retreating America

In the 20th century, the U.S. was irreplaceable because it exercised great power without the blood-and-soil nationalism of Russia, Germany or Japan. It stood for universal, liberal, democratic ideals. We should not expect those humane ideals to thrive in the vacuum left by a retreating America.

Beware the ‘improvers’ and their careless policy

President Barack Obama is seeking diplomatic and especially economic leverage against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ramshackle nation in order to advance the enormous U.S. interest in depriving him of Ukraine. Unless Obama finds such leverage, his precipitous slide into Jimmy Carter territory will continue.

‘Job killer’ rhetoric has it all wrong on wages

Forget what you’re hearing from the Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about a minimum wage increase being a job killer. The real job killers in America are lousy jobs at lousy wages. Even Wal-Mart may be starting to understand this.

Turn up the pressure and counter the Russian bear in Ukraine

Ukraine will either fall to Russian hegemony, or finally determine its own future — if America balances Russia’s power. Whether anything Barack Obama says or does would stop anyone remains questionable, but surely the West has more financial clout than Russia’s kleptocratic economy that exports little but oil, gas and vodka.