Archive

December 5th

America is not an Orange Julius; is it?

    It turns out our ambitions were quite similar, Donald Trump’s and mine.

    We were both interested in acquiring a franchise – a business opportunity.

    I always had an affection for Orange Julius and its one-trick-pony stands at malls. I told my betrothed that when we had the scratch, the itch I’d pursue was an OJ franchise. We could have one stand and live out our days drinking in the proceeds. All it would take is some up-front money and some oranges.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have the up-front, not the kind Mr. Dreamcicle Hair does. So I sat back. Meanwhile, Trump set out to buy The Franchise.

    Trump’s first comments as president-elect sound exactly like this. The government-by-the-people thing is just, in Molly Ivins’ words, another bidness opportunity.

    He will not shed his role as business mogul while he runs the people’s business. He says he will meet with business partners in the Oval Office.

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Yes, humanity is cosmically special

    As we give thanks for our many obvious blessings, let's reflect on a blessing that is less well known, a gift from modern astronomy: how we view ourselves.

    There was a time, back when astronomy put Earth at the center of the universe, that we thought we were special. But after Copernicus kicked Earth off its pedestal, we decided we were cosmically inconsequential, partly because the universe is vast and about the same everywhere. Astronomer Carl Sagan put it this way: "We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star." Stephen Hawking was even blunter: "The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet."

    An objective look, however, at just two of the most dramatic discoveries of astronomy - big bang cosmology and planets around other stars (exoplanets) - suggests the opposite. We seem to be cosmically special, perhaps even unique - at least as far as we are likely to know for eons.

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Why Corruption Matters

    Remember all the news reports suggesting, without evidence, that the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising created conflicts of interest? Well, now the man who benefited from all that innuendo is on his way to the White House. And he’s already giving us an object lesson in what real conflicts of interest look like, as authoritarian governments around the world shower favors on his business empire.

    Of course, Donald Trump could be rejecting these favors and separating himself and his family from his hotels and so on. But he isn’t. In fact, he’s openly using his position to drum up business. And his early appointments suggest that he won’t be the only player using political power to build personal wealth. Self-dealing will be the norm throughout this administration. America has just entered an era of unprecedented corruption at the top.

    The question you need to ask is why this matters. Hint: It’s not the money, it’s the incentives.

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Where charitable giving may be headed with Trump

    The holidays and year-end tax considerations make this the season of giving. And there are indications Americans will be more generous than ever.

    In 2015, Americans donated a record $373.25 billion in charitable contributions, up a little more than 4 percent from the year before, according to Giving USA, the most reliable chronicler of philanthropy.

    More than 7 in 10 donations were made by individuals, and about 15 percent came from foundations; corporations and bequests accounted for the rest. A little less than a third went to religious entities, with about 15 percent for education. Services for the poor, such as food banks, homeless shelters and legal assistance, got a little less than 12 percent.

    Looking beyond this year, there is a divide about where giving is headed, particularly because of recent political changes.

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The race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is now open

    By Election Day 2016, ambitious Democrats had already resigned themselves to an eight-year wait for their chance in the national spotlight. Hillary Clinton was an overwhelming favorite against Donald Trump and, assuming she won, running a primary challenge against her in four years would be a fool's errand.

    Then Clinton lost.

    While this most stunning upset in modern presidential history has produced (and will produce) a thousand aftershocks, one of the most unlikely and important is that the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 is now open.

    That opening is made all the more remarkable by the fact that there is simply no logical heir (or even heirs) to President Barack Obama or Clinton - no obvious candidate waiting in the wings to step forward and rebuild the party. Vice President Joe Biden appears to have decided that he's done running for office. As a two-time loser, Clinton is done, too. And after that, the bench is, well, pretty thin.

    Politics, of course, abhors a vacuum. So candidates will run. Here's a look at who they might be:

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New haters, same old backlash

    Maybe now when I tell you that we're not in a post-racial society, you'll pay attention, OK?

    The latest evidence includes an intriguing debate over how to identify the loosely organized but increasingly prominent alt-right movement.

    Should we call them by their chosen label, "alt-right," which is short for "alternative right?" Or should we address them as I prefer by such traditional labels as "white nationalists" or simply "white supremacists?"

    It's a tricky question because the alt-right is a Twitter-age hashtag movement like the tea party, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, "NotMyPresident" protesters and whatever other new movement may be percolating into a flash mob.

    The question gained new prominence after President-elect Donald Trump chose Steve Bannon to be his chief strategist. Among other achievements, Bannon is former chairman of Breitbart Media, which he described last summer in a Mother Jones interview as "the platform for the alt-right."

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I'm an undocumented Harvard grad. The election has left me broken.

    My future has always been blurry. It's an inherent characteristic of the undocumented experience. But when I got into Harvard University, everyone told me that my life was about to change: Your future is set. This was it. We finally made it. The American dream was within my grasp. Years later, my mom told me that on the night that I was accepted, my dad cried. Late at night, he turned to her and said, "Esto significa que yo hice algo bien." This means I did something right.

    My Harvard acceptance proved it was all worth it: the blood that covered my dad's hands after his long shifts, the tears my mom shed because she missed her family in Chile, the frustration they both endured from being unable to fulfill their full potential, all of the times they were humiliated because they didn't speak English well enough or understand American culture. It was all worth it, my father was saying. I made it. We made it.

    And yet.

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Donald Trump is calling 'hypocrisy' on the recount effort, but that's not really fair

    The results of the 2016 election have put the shoe on the other foot, it would seem.

    During the campaign, it was now-President-elect Donald Trump declining to say that he would accept the results of the election -- a move for which Hillary Clinton strongly denounced him. But as of this weekend, Clinton's campaign is participating in a recount of election results spurred by Green Party nominee Jill Stein in Wisconsin and potentially other states.

    It's led to claims of Clinton hypocrisy and cries of double standard. Trump summed up those claims via his preferred medium, Twitter, Saturday night and Sunday morning:

    "The Democrats, when they incorrectly thought they were going to win, asked that the election night tabulation be accepted. Not so anymore!"

    "Hillary Clinton conceded the election when she called me just prior to the victory speech and after the results were in. Nothing will change"

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Cracks in Trump's wall of promises

    Barely two weeks after Donald Trump's election built on a host of promises from building a wall along the Mexican border to putting "crooked" Hillary Clinton in jail, he has already begun to withdraw or hedge on many of them.

    He still insists that wall will go up and be paid for by Mexico. But at the risk of disillusioning millions of Hillary-haters who voted for him, he has pointedly backed off the threat to his defeated rival, showing a compassion never visible during the campaign.

    'I don't want to hurt the Clintons," Trump said Tuesday. "I really don't. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways." The worst, of course, was the humiliating Electoral College loss he handed her on Election Day, plunging her into what she admitted was a pit of personal as well as political gloom.

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What about Russia's meddling?

    In assessing Donald Trump's presidential victory, Americans continue to look away from this election's most alarming story: the successful effort by a hostile foreign power to manipulate public opinion before the vote.

    U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government actively interfered in our elections. Russian state propaganda gave little doubt that this was done to support President-elect Trump, who repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin and excused the Russian president's foreign aggression and domestic repression. Most significantly, U.S. intelligence agencies have affirmed that the Russian government directedthe illegal hacking of private email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and prominent individuals. The emails were then released by WikiLeaks, which has benefited financially from a Russian state propaganda arm, used Russian operatives for security and made clear an intent to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

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