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Sen. Doug Jones, Alabama Democrat, won the special Senate election in 2017. Critics say he's painted himself into a corner because Mr. Jones said he'll support whoever the Democratic presidential pick is. (Associated Press)

A high wire act in Alabama

American Public Television announced this month that it was resurrecting (literally and figuratively) “The McLaughlin Group,” but you don’t need to be a political pundit — or even play one on TV — to understand why Sen. Doug Jones has been designated the most-endangered of the 34 Senate incumbents up for election in 2020.

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Is the country worth defending?

It's a Mexican standoff over a Mexican wall. More than a fortnight into the partial government shutdown, neither side was willing to budge. The longest government shutdown in history isn't likely to be surpassed for a long time. One good thing that may come of this game is a recognition by everybody that shutting down the government for partisan advantage is the kind of game that only small children should play.

FILE - In this Dec. 27, 2018 file photo a grower at Loving Kindness Farms attends to a crop of young marijuana plants in Gardena, Calif. Gavin Newsom's new budget is a figure that says a lot about California's shaky legal marijuana market: the state is expecting a lot less cash coming in from cannabis taxes. The Democrat's proposed spending plan projects the state will bank $355 million in marijuana excise taxes by the end of June, roughly half of what was once expected after broad legal sales kicked off last year. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, file)

Reefer madness

Everyone enjoys his bad habits, else they wouldn't be habits, but fortunately most of us have the sense to swear off the ones that cause lasting harm. The obvious danger of tobacco to health has pushed cigarette smoking to a record low. Sad to say, the use of marijuana is growing now that ambiguity over its legality is well advanced. Potheads are sometimes thought to be mellow folk, whose only bad habit is wearing out the sofa while lost in lethargic reveries about what they can't remember. Surprising to some, pothead behavior occasionally ranges into violence. Potheads should learn the underside of the drug before joining the high life.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Natives in decline

As native populations in Europe decline, they're increasingly being replaced by immigrants from different and sometimes hostile cultures. The long-term question bothering many Europeans is whether the complex cultures in Europe, carefully cultivated and which have contributed much to the world, can survive this infusion.

In this photo, Rashida Tlaib, then a Democratic candidate for Michigan's 13th Congressional District, speaks at a rally in Dearborn, Mich., Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. Ms. Tlaib went on to win the race and become one of the two first Muslim women to serve in the U.S. House. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) **FILE**

Dirty words, sticks and stones

The Democrats set the tone of the rhetoric we can expect from them on the very day that Nancy Pelosi became the speaker of the House again. Rashida Tlaib, a freshman Democrat from Michigan, speaking before a giddy audience applauding her every word, had described President Trump in the most vulgar terms possible, and promised that "we're going to impeach the motherf-----."

FILE- This July 24, 2018, file photo shows a portion of the 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form for 2018 in New York. A new rule caps the state and local taxes you can deduct on your federal tax return. That could make more of your income taxable this year, but finding out if the cap affects you, pouncing on other tax breaks, bunching your charitable contributions and planning for a new tax world could help. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

It's the taxes, stupid

Prosperity is returning to U.S. communities that have been taking a licking, a reason for cheerful celebration as the new year begins. Recent figures show the economy is going gangbusters, but in some places Americans are simply going. Americans feeling the bite of greedy tax collectors are voting with their feet and migrating to states where they're more likely to find fortune.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks as he submits next year's budget bill to parliament in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. The $47.5 billion budget is less than half of last year's, mainly due to the severe depreciation of the local currency following President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and restore U.S. sanctions. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Redeeming Iran

No matter how intense, the heat of summer yields to the moderating breezes of its successor season. Brutal governments that scourge their own inevitably face movements that hold out the promise of liberation and peace. The passage of 40 years, time enough to span three generations, tests the ability of the suffering people of Iran to endure the inhumanity of their radical Islamic regime.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, waits to participate in a mock swearing-in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, as the 116th Congress begins. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ** FILE **

Romney for president, or something

Mitt Romney is nothing if not flexible, and he usually bends a little to the left. He has been in the public eye for decades, but he has served only four years in an elective office, as governor of Massachusetts. He has now been the junior senator from Utah for a day. His dearth of time in office hasn't been for lack of trying. He ran for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 1994, governor of Massachusetts in 2002, president in 2008, president again in 2012, and finally for the Senate in Utah. Mr. Romney has either a profound determination to serve his country, or an ardent craving for the spotlight. Maybe it's a little of both.

In this April 4, 2018 photo, a U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council soldier, left, speaks with a U.S. soldier, at a U.S. position near the tense front line with Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij town, north Syria. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria has rattled Washington's Kurdish allies, who are its most reliable partner in Syria and among the most effective ground forces battling the Islamic State group. Kurds in northern Syria said commanders and fighters met into the night, discussing their response to the surprise announcement Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

A lesson learned (maybe)

With American troops and military installations spread on all continents, the importance of a mere 2,000 troops in Syria would seem Lilliputian. But from world media over the past few days, you might think it's as crucial as the withdrawal from Saigon in the previous century.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a key member of the Banking Committee, expresses her opposition to a move in the Senate to pass legislation that would roll back some of the safeguards Congress put into place after a financial crisis rocked the nation's economy ten years ago, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Warren, who ran for office in the aftermath of the great recession in 2008, serves as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Pocahontas in pursuit of the White House

The Iowa caucuses, Round One in the quadrennial exercise leading to the election of a president, are still a year away, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts delivered a fix this week for Democrats who can't wait to get started on the considerable task of deposing Donald Trump.

Fireworks explode over the Arc de Triomphe during the New Year's Day celebrations on the Champs Elysees, in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

Fresh starts and blank slates

What a way to finish. Like a marathoner whose spent legs go wobbly a hundred yards shy of the tape, the nation seemed about to fall on its face during the waning days of the old year, as if barely able to straggle to the starting line of the new one. Before assuming that past performance is indicative of what's to come, however, it's instructive to remember that night follows day, the moon waxes and wanes, and the future, unlike the past, is not written in stone. It's a blank slate on which an industrious people record their work.

A 3D Christmas show displayed outside of a build in New Taipei City, Taiwan, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

Trading in dollars, politics and irony

The more China tries to minimize the success of Taiwan which is officially the Republic of China — the more important Taiwan becomes in the international order. It is, says one diplomat, "one of the greater ironies of our time."

The U.S. Capitol Building Dome is seen before the sun rises in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The polarization express

Washington has always been a mixture of principle and power, but seldom has the concoction been so explosive. As tumultuous as the past two years have been with Republicans lodged at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the next two with resurgent Democrats commanding the House of Representatives promise to be far coarser. Anticipating the coming clash, Americans are bracing for impact.

People walk near the Washington Monument, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, as the partial government shutdown continues in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The unnecessary partial government shutdown

Poor Donald Trump. At least that's how the president was feeling on Christmas Eve, according to his own Twitter account. "I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security," he proclaimed. "At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!"

This May 3, 2018, photo shows boxes on a conveyor belt during a tour of the Amazon fulfillment center in Aurora, Colo. The explosion in online shopping has led to porch pirates and stoop surfers swiping holiday packages from unsuspecting residents. The cops in one New Jersey city are trying to catch the thieves with some trickery of their own. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A false shot at prosperity

Amazon, the world's biggest retailer, founded and helmed by the world's richest man, recently subjected scores of American municipalities to a humiliating dog and pony show. The Seattle-based tech behemoth announced it was planning to build a second headquarters somewhere in North America, promising some 50,000 new jobs to wherever it landed. It then, in a slow-motion imitation of a reality television show, invited localities to submit bids.

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., speaks, during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, at the Capitol in Phoenix, after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, rear, announced his decision to replace U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. with McSally in the U.S. Senate seat that belonged to Sen. John McCain. McSally will take over after Kyl's resignation becomes effective Dec. 31. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A new senator for Arizona

Republican Rep. Martha McSally is nobody's idea of a sore loser. The Tucson area congresswoman recently lost a close race for Senate to her fellow Arizona representative, a Democrat named Kyrsten Sinema, who represents Phoenix. Even though Ms. McSally appeared to be in the lead on election night itself, late counts pushed Ms. Sinema across the finish line a few days later.

President Donald Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn arrives at federal court in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Squaring Rubik's Cube

If only unraveling the maddening complexity of the Russian collusion investigation were no more complicated than solving Rubik's Cube with all of its innumerable permutations. Tuesday's sentencing of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was supposed to set a piece of the 2016 presidential election puzzle in place but instead, it led to new twists and turns that included an unexpected sentencing postponement. While witnessing the political spectacle the probe has engendered, it's helpful for Americans to remember one thing: There has yet to be found any collusion on the part of Team Trump.

Turning over a new green leaf

Abody doesn't need an advanced academic degree to practice common sense. That's why working folks who carry the nation on their backs have grasped the limits of the renewable energy revolution more quickly than those enthralled with the promise of a fossil-fuel-free future.

In this April 12, 2018 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Liaoning aircraft carrier is accompanied by navy frigates and submarines conducting an exercises in the South China Sea. China has announced live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait amid heightened tensions over increased American support for Taiwan. The announcement by authorities in the coastal province of Fujian on Thursday was accompanied by a statement that the navy was ending a three-day exercise in the South China one day early. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

Trouble in the Taiwan Strait

The unwritten law is often a myth, romantic as the idea may be. If it's not written there's no one to enforce such a "law." Such romantic legislation is usually thought to apply to the defense of marriage and the home, but it's sometimes applied to other things, such as the freedom of the seas. It's only useful when there's a nation big enough and determined enough to enforce the principle of such a law.

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argue during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Time to finish the Wall

If President Trump sends a wish list to the North Pole, it might say something like this (and he had better hurry): "All I want for Christmas is a big, beautiful wall." If congressional Democrats send a letter, it would be addressed to the Grinch, Santa's sometime helper, and demand, "Stall the wall."