Archive

I watched a populist leader rise in Hungary. That's why I'm worried for America.

    Hungary, my country, has in the past half-decade morphed from an exemplary post-Cold War democracy into a populist autocracy. Here are a few eerie parallels that have made it easy for Hungarians to put Donald Trump on their political map: Prime Minister Viktor Orban has depicted migrants as rapists, job-stealers, terrorists and "poison" for the nation, and built a vast fence along Hungary's southern border. The popularity of his nativist agitation has allowed him to easily debunk as unpatriotic or partisan any resistance to his self-styled "illiberal democracy," which he said he modeled after "successful states" such as Russia and Turkey.

    No wonder Orban feted Trump's victory as ending the era of "liberal non-democracy," "the dictatorship of political correctness" and "democracy export." The two consummated their political kinship in a recent phone conversation; Orban is invited to Washington, where, they agreed, both had been treated as "black sheep."

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Does Trump realize there can only be one president at a time?

    One of the hallmarks of our democratic system is its commitment to the peaceful transition of power. This practice comes with two important, linked corollaries that fall under the umbrella that there can be only one president at a time. The first is that the incoming president, especially in the arena of foreign policy, takes care not to trespass on the prerogatives of the incumbent. The second is that the outgoing president, once departed, remains largely mute, giving his successor space to operate unimpeded by post-presidential backseat carping.

    President-elect Donald Trump must have missed this memo. Not bothering to wait for the constitutionally mandated handover, Trump has inserted himself into policy-making, from bullying U.S. manufacturers to barging into foreign affairs, including shaking up U.S.-China policy and intruding into the Obama administration's dealings with Israel at the United Nations.

     This public tussling is as disturbing as it is unprecedented.

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Despite Trump's triumph, there are silver linings all around us

    In a 2015 survey, only 6 percent of Americans said that things in the world are getting better. This is not a surprise. Americans remain deeply pessimistic about the direction of their country and the world. But what if this view fails to account for much evidence to the contrary? What if Americans' failure to know the facts about progress becomes in itself a barrier to further progress?

    That is the message of some recent findings by Our World in Data, an online publication of the University of Oxford. Since 1930, the global rate of extreme poverty has fallen from 75 percent to 10 percent. The literacy rate has increased from 30 percent to 85 percent. Child mortality has been reduced by a factor of 10. Democracy has flourished; colonialism has almost disappeared. Education rates have soared, and population growth has slowed to the point where it could be zero by the end of the century.

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Carrie Fisher's openness about her bipolar disorder motivated me to talk about mine

    Soon after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my late 20s, I remember looking for stories of people who were living successful lives with the condition. I had been through the trauma of losing touch with reality, a symptom of my illness during manic episodes, and needed to find examples of people who could show me that it got better, that I could find stability. Carrie Fisher was one of the first celebrities I learned also had bipolar disorder, and she had found a way to cope: through writing, performing and talking openly about her mental illness. Her openness was inspiring, refreshing and motivated me to start writing about my illness, too.

    What impressed me the most about the way Fisher spoke about the horrific and unpredictable ups and downs of bipolar disorder, and also her battle with drugs and alcohol, was how she did so without shame. She admitted it took her a long time to get to that point, but once she did there was no looking back. Fisher had pride for her struggle. She turned her "issues" into consumable entertainment in the form of books and plays for which she received rave reviews and awards.

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Carrie Fisher gave new hope to geeky girls like me

    I was devastated by the news of Carrie Fisher's passing. Fisher was so many things: a writer, an actor, a script doctor, an author and one of the funniest women out there. She spoke frankly about her struggle with drugs and mental illness, letting people know it was OK to have flaws. She laughed at her own struggles, tweeting in 2011, "If my life wasn't funny it would just be true and that is unacceptable." Part of what she laughed at was the fame she earned playing Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" films. It was not all she was, but the role she played changed everything for me, and for millions of little girls around the world.

    Back in the 1970s, girls didn't have a lot of strong role models in mainstream entertainment. The women we saw in films and on TV were waiting to be rescued or draped artistically over the hero. They were decoration, or prizes to be won. We read books and fairy tales where the only accomplishment of the lead female was to be lovely enough to catch someone's eye. Even the smart ones were smart only until they found a man.

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Want to visit Mars? Start with a new moon mission

    Fifty years ago, the U.S. had the moon to itself. Starting in 1969, when the first of six Apollo missions touched down, it seemed likely that American astronauts would make a long-term home on the lunar surface. Instead, the U.S. sent its last manned mission there in 1972, and won't be returning anytime soon. That's a shame: The moon is now a more compelling destination than ever.

    Other countries, seeing new scientific and commercial potential there, have started to fill the exploration gap, including China, Russia and Japan. Perhaps the most ambitious effort is the European Space Agency's "moon village," which is intended to be a permanent international outpost on the lunar surface. In recent weeks, the concept has gained considerable momentum as Europe's science ministers and private space companies have embraced it.

    If the U.S. wants to join them, and resume its historic role as the leader in lunar exploration, it'll need a major shift in priorities.

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Trump signals a 180-degree turn on China policy

    The U.S.-China relationship is ending 2016 on its most ominous note in years. President-elect Donald Trump has questioned the one-China policy that has been the default American position and angered mainland China by taking a congratulatory call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen. China has reciprocated with barely veiled aggression, adding visible anti-aircraft systems to the artificial islands it has dredged out of the South China Sea and seizing an underwater American drone from under the nose of a U.S. warship.

    The big question for 2017 is whether the two sides will let the relationship unravel further. Will their cool war become more "war" and less "cool"?

    Until now, the rival strategic interests of China and the U.S. have been mitigated by shared economic interests. But economic cooperation can quickly end over disagreements on currency and trade -- reducing the Sino-American relationship to raw, zero-sum geopolitical competition.

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Year’s End Quiz

    Happy almost New Year! Wow, we’ve been through a lot. Let’s take a look back at 2016 and see how much of the silliness you remember. We’re not going to talk about Hillary. Too sad. But here’s an end-of-the-year quiz about:

 

Republicans We Once Knew

   

    1. It’s been a long year for Chris Christie, but he made history when... 

    A) The National Governors Association voted him “Least Likely to Succeed.”

    B) A Quinnipiac poll in New Jersey showed his job disapproval rating at 77 percent.

    C) He did the tango on “Dancing With the Stars.”

   

    2. Ted Cruz said that when his wife, Heidi, became first lady... 

    A) “She’ll put prayer back in the prayer breakfast.”

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Taking 2016 'literally,' but not all 'seriously'

    Our long wait is over. The time has come to honor the most quotable quotes, in my opinion, from a bizarre political year that many of us wish we could forget.

    I call my award, which includes no prize other than a firm handshake, "the Earl." That's my salute to the late Earl Bush, long-time press secretary to the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley or, in the memories of many Chicagoans, Richard the First.

    Bush is famously remembered for telling reporters: "Don't print what (the mayor) said. Print what he meant."

    Indeed, one of the nation's most powerful politicians sometimes seemed to speak English as though it were his second language.

    Even reading from a prepared text did not save him on one occasion from misreading "plateaus" to declare, "We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement."

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N.D. Democrat tiptoes through Trumpworld

    Like North Dakota's whooping cranes and black-footed ferrets, Heidi Heitkamp is part of an endangered species. Less than two years from now, the first-term Democratic senator will be running for re-election in a state where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 36 percentage points. Even for a centrist as popular as Heitkamp, that's a mountain to climb.

    Some of the reasons for Trump's lopsided victory in North Dakota are peculiar to him, but others can also be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party. Democratic presidential candidates make little effort to appeal to rural voters, who make up most of North Dakota's population and who care less about transgender bathrooms or Katy Perry than about guns and growing things.

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