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Dithering on Ukraine

After an agreement to “de-escalate tensions and restore security” in Ukraine was announced Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry was very explicit about U.S. expectations. “We fully expect the Russians … to demonstrate their seriousness by insisting that the pro-Russian separatists who they’ve been supporting lay down their arms [and] leave the buildings” in eastern Ukraine, he said. “I made clear to Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov today that if we are not able to see progress … this weekend, then we will have no choice but to impose further costs on Russia.”

The adolescent president

WASHINGTON — Recently, Barack Obama — a Demosthenes determined to elevate our politics from coarseness to elegance; a Pericles sent to ameliorate our rhetorical impoverishment — spoke at the University of Michigan. He came to that very friendly venue — in 2012, he received 67 percent of the vote in Ann Arbor’s county — after visiting a local sandwich shop, where a muse must have whispered in the presidential ear. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had recently released his budget, so Obama expressed his disapproval by calling it, for the benefit of his academic audience, a “meanwich” and a “stinkburger.”

An easier Tax Day

Rep. Dave Camp’s pending retirement from Congress may put an end to his long crusade to make common sense of the nation’s tax code, unless someone else takes up the mantle. It would be tragic if the effort is not sustained.

Shrink the feds’ share of the West

For a brief period more than a week ago, American politics seemed to be transported back to the 1990s. The source of the time warp: Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who was engaged in a tense standoff with officials from the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Regulatory overkill

WASHINGTON — Occasionally, the Supreme Court considers questions that are answered merely by asking them. On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments about this: Should a government agency, whose members are chosen by elected officials, be empowered to fine or imprison any candidate or other participant in the political process who, during a campaign, makes what the agency considers “false statements” about a member of the political class or a ballot initiative?

A tax reformer’s uphill push

WASHINGTON — The Sisyphean task of tax reform should be tried only by someone who will not flinch from igniting some highly flammable people — those who think whatever wrinkle in the tax code benefits them is an eternal entitlement. Tax reform’s Senate champion is Ron Wyden, the affable, cerebral and tall Oregon Democrat who once wanted to be the NBA’s greatest Jewish power forward since … never mind.

Democrats acting desperately

WASHINGTON — H.L. Mencken gets a workout in election years when voters are reminded by pundits of the curmudgeon’s observation that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

Hearing an echo on Benghazi

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday hosted Benghazi hearing No. 1,372,569, give or take, and this time they were determined to find the proof that eluded them in the previous 1,372,568: That Obama administration officials put politics before national security.