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Terror on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo

There’s not much of elegance and quiet pleasure left in travel. “Getting there,” in the famous Cunard slogan, is no longer half the fun. But what pleasure there is usually rides on steel rails. Too bad, but Congress in its wisdom may be about to fix that.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Playing not to lose

All that trouble, all that anticipation of “the debate of the century,” and all that anti-climax. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton moved the needle so much as a millimeter.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, stands with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton before the first presidential debate at Hofstra University, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Hempstead, N.Y. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Beyond the debates

We heard a lot of promises Monday night, when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at last took the measure of each other face to face. Both the Donald and the gentle lady from the Clinton counting house were trying to show us how they would lead the nation, dispatch the nation’s enemies and bestow all the free stuff that voters have come to expect as their due.

Stickers for voters are seen on a table at a polling station Tuesday, April 26, 2016 in Wayne, Pa. Attention is shifting from a well-worn campaign trail to the voting booths as Pennsylvanians cast ballots Tuesday on presidential primary contests, including the first competitive Republican primary in decades, and races for Congress and state offices. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

Diluting the vote

It’s easy to feel lost in a nation of 320 million. But it’s the strength and glory of the American way that the least among us has a say, no smaller and no bigger than anyone else, with a vote on Election Day.

David Foley holds a handgun while shopping at the Spring Guns and Ammo store Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Spring, Texas. President Barack Obama is making good on his pledge to politicize gun violence. The package of gun-control executive actions Obama will formally announce Tuesday has pushed the contentious issue to the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign, just weeks from the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

A tale of two states

There’s a lot of miles between downtown Chicago and, say, Valdosta. Illinois and Georgia are very different places, and the politicians who live there have a profound disagreement about guns. Illinois politicians take pride in their gun-control laws that enable gangbangers, killers and other thugs to rape, rob and kill all but unmolested in Chicago and its frightened suburbs.

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Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. gestures as he arrives for a campaign rally at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Roosting with Hillary's chickens

Hillary Clinton's pneumonia, being of the bacterial and not the viral persuasion, is apparently not contagious. It's safe to shake her hand and share a cough. But the panic afflicting the Democrats is clearly contagious. Panic is Hillary's most obvious contribution to the 2016 race. She sees handwriting on the wall, and it's a warning writ large that something is gaining on her.

The cost of better gas mileage

The roadside cross, displaying a name, perhaps plastic flowers and sometimes a teddy bear attached with duct tape, is a symbol of the broken hearts left behind by someone who died on that spot. After years of declining traffic fatalities, the number of lives lost on the nation's roads and highways is rising again.

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2014 file photo, the State Department is seen in Washington. Ahead of Sundays 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the State Department is reminding U.S. citizens about threats around the world and urging Americans to be vigilant about their personal security. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez, File)

Slow-walking in Foggy Bottom

Whether Hillary Clinton wins the White House in November or is sent back to one of her estates to recover her health, it's unlikely that handling emails at her old shop at the State Department will ever be the same. The growing list of scandals over her misuse of electronic communications has trained a spotlight on the system's failures that she shamelessly exploited.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking at a rally at Johnson C. Smith University, in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Miserables, deplorables and loose tongues

Hillary Clinton is the pluperfect wonk. She grooves on the trivia of policy and conversations with whoever carries a checkbook. But she doesn't understand campaign politics and has no appreciation of the fine points of the game she insists on trying to play.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. **FILE (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A Washington fish story

The catfish is a tasty critter that long ago outlived a less than glorious reputation. The Native American catfish is a sluggard that lives in the bayous and rivers of the Deep South, eager to suck up whatever moves among the tin cans, bottles and accumulated trash on the bottom of the stream (and not to be confused with "catfish" who swim through the internet in pursuit of gamier prey).

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves after leaving an apartment building Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in New York. Clinton's campaign said the Democratic presidential nominee left the 9/11 anniversary ceremony in New York early after feeling "overheated." (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

No more coasting

Hillary Clinton, who once thought she could coast down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, has a new view and a new strategy. She has to remind everyone that Donald Trump is mean, egotistical, and nuts, and persuade them that he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office and all those knobs, switches and buttons that could dispatch half the world to dark oblivion.

Capitol Hill staffer Tonya Williams of Washington, D.C. plays with her newborn pug on the east side of the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, July 29, 2014. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Quackery by the lame ducks

Conservatives are rightly apprehensive about the prospect of yet another lame-duck congressional session after the November elections. Republican and Democratic leaders are said to be conspiring to punt on budget, economic and social policy decisions until after voters have cast their ballots.

The Idaho Correctional Center is shown south of Boise, Idaho, operated by Corrections Corporation of America.  (AP Photo/Charlie Litchfield, File)

Fixing what's wrong in prison

Nearly everyone — Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives — has concluded that the nation's criminal justice system is not working. But nobody has figured out how to fix it, or even to summon the energy to try. The government locks up many who shouldn't be in prison, does little to prepare them to re-enter society when they get out and everyone wonders why so many freed prisoners return to the Big House.

Students walk past a Jesuit statue in front of Freedom Hall, center, formerly named Mulledy Hall, on the Georgetown University campus, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Washington. After renaming the Mulledy and McSherry buildings at Georgetown University temporarily to Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall, Georgetown University will give preference in admissions to the descendants of slaves owned by the Maryland Jesuits as part of its effort to atone for profiting from the sale of enslaved people. Georgetown president John DeGioia announced Thursday that the university will implement the admissions preferences. The university released a report calling on its leaders to offer a formal apology for the university's participation in the slave trade. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The R-words join the lexicon

Fashion goes in cycles. Women's hems go up, they go down. Sometimes they go away, and the pantsuit is in, as Hillary Clinton grimly illustrates. Attitudes undergo alterations, too, and the R-words that everyone claims to hate are everywhere: racism, and the double-R word, reverse racism. Martin Luther King would surely not be pleased.

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 14, 2015 file photo, protesters, including college students, fast-food restaurant employees and other workers, display placards and chant slogans as they march in Boston. New laws taking effect on Jan. 1, 2016, will raise the minimum wage in several states, including Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

A lesson for Labor Day

Not everyone felt like celebrating the contributions of the American worker on Labor Day. Hourly employees have been suffering the pain inflicted by the movement agitating for higher wages imposed by law.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at University of South Florida in Tampa, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The sprint toward November

And now the fun begins. All that has gone before doesn't count, or at least not very much. The preliminaries are over, the palookas have been dispatched to undercards elsewhere, and with the passing of Labor Day the candidates, and more important, the voters, can get down to the serious business of choosing a president.

In this Aug. 10, 1976, file photo, women opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment sit with Phyllis Schlafly, left, national chairman of Stop ERA. **File (AP Photo)

Phyllis Schlafly, 1924-2016

Phyllis Schlafly called herself "just a housewife," and lost several races for public office. She was scorned by the political elites and mocked by feminists. Betty Friedan, an early modern feminist icon, told her she should be "burned at the stake" for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment. But when she died Sunday, aged 92, she was recognized as one of the most politically important women of her time.

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during a news conference at the conclusion of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Obama's relentless gun purge

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco (naturally), last week approved another step the Obama administration has taken to limit the right to own a gun, though guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. When the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment to the Constitution prohibits both federal and state governments arbitrarily interfering with the right of individual Americans to "keep and bear arms," it recognized that every constitutional right is subject to "reasonable restrictions."

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during a press conference after the conclusion of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang Province, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

More of President Obama's legacy

President Obama will soon be leaving the White House, and not a day too soon. He will leave behind a mess in the Middle East beyond exaggeration. The five-year-old Syrian civil war continues unabated, pitting several armed groups, each with foreign sponsors, against each other, leaving the United States caught in a web of its own contradictions.

Henry Ford, 1919

The right to the fruits of our labor

When you get a whole country -- as did ours -- thinking that Washington is a sort of heaven and behind its clouds dwell omniscience and omnipotence, you are educating that country into a dependent state of mind, which augurs ill for the future. Our help does not come from Washington, but from ourselves; our help may, however, go to Washington as a sort of central distribution point, where all our efforts are coordinated for the general good.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. **File  (Lou Foglia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)  MANDATORY CREDIT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES; CHICAGO TRIBUNE OUT

Outrage in Chicago

The Labor Day weekend in Chicago is not so much celebrated as feared. Americans elsewhere are preparing to spend the end of summer at the beach or around a neighbor's barbecue bounty, but in Chicago the police are bracing for a weekend of murder and mayhem on steroids.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto speaks during a a joint statement with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Mexico City, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

At stake south of the border

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's invitation to the two American candidates for president to visit Mexico illustrates not only his interest in the American election, but his interest in how to use the expanding role of Mexico in domestic American politics.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Trump is calling his surprise visit to Mexico City a 'great honor.' (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Donald Trump in Mexico

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats -- and a considerable number of Republican summer soldiers who play "can you top this" with each other to see who can say the most hateful things about their party's nominee -- thought they had Donald Trump's number.

The Maryland State Board of Elections provides instructions for hand-marking a paper ballot in a sample ballot photographed Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in Hagerstown, Md. Maryland is going back to basics, with an ink pen and paper ballot, for the presidential primary elections. (AP Photo/David Dishneau)

A vote for low-tech elections

Someone has been hacking into voter registration databases and the FBI is on it. After James Comey's blowing off the evidence collected by his agents of Hillary Clinton's email crimes, however, there's considerable cause to be afraid, very afraid, for the legitimacy of the November elections. With the push to make elections more convenient at the price of security, penetration by outside actors has become nearly inevitable.