Is it us, or does it seem that Christmas gifts are increasingly becoming just items to turn in for cash or store credit? In difficult economic times, the temptation only grows. But here at America we want to suggest four other things you might do this year with gifts you don’t like.
1) It is the season for giving, so give. Donate your unwanted gifts of clothing to an organization that will pass them on to someone who needs them. Go to http://locator.goodwill.org  or the Yellow Pages  to find the Goodwill nearest you; or have a party where everyone comes wearing the gifts they can’t stand, and at the end of the night box them up for a local shelter or the St. Vincent de Paul Society . You could also donate unwanted clothing to your local high school or community theater company. They will put you in their programs and love you forever.
Think similarly about other unwanted gifts. Libraries love books. Sick kids love electronics.
2) You could also pay it forward—give your fashion faux pas to someone you know who will look good in it. Or start a “common closet” in your home where you leave stuff that others can take when they come over. You may find your friends visiting more often.
3) If you really must return something, give half of the money you receive to someone who needs the money more than you. Like your niece, or the guy from work or the lady down the hall. Or a favorite not-for-profit, always-in-need-of-donations weekly magazine.
4) Last of all, when it comes to gifts of clothing, you could try wearing it. That’s right, put it on. Who are you, Michael Kors? Maybe it actually looks good on you. Everyone’s probably tired of your same old turtleneck and sweatpants combo. Take the hint.Restoring the Balance
Just when President-elect Obama thought the news could not be more grim, he awoke on Dec. 2 to the public report that Iran is on course to have a nuclear weapon before the end of his first year as president. Most intelligence analysts had been saying through much of 2008 that a nuclear-armed Iran was years, not months, away. Yet an unprecedented coalition of respected think tanks, including a rare partnership between the Brookings Institute  and the Council on Foreign Relations , concluded that the United States faces this and several other serious and immediate threats to its strategic position in the Middle East.
The report’s authors said that any settlement with Iran would require “a comprehensive diplomatic initiative” involving “direct and unconditional talks” with Tehran. Neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, who are, thankfully, enduring the last twitches of their political death throes, have chalked the report up to liberal naïveté. What is truly naïve, however, is the idea that the United States should continue to pursue a 7-year-old strategy that has not only failed to stop the Iranians from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, but has not even slowed them down.
The report rightly concludes that a new diplomatic strategy is not only necessary, but also the only practical option. Though the challenges seem to grow more daunting by the day, Mr. Obama should keep his campaign promise to pursue diplomacy anew and not allow the foreign policy old guard to deter him.A Dark Christmas
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is a red-letter day for American retailers hoping for black (that is, profitable) balance sheets. But this year Black Friday turned deadly. In Valley Stream, N.Y., a 34-year-old part-time employee was trampled to death when the doors opened at a Wal-Mart store, where customers had waited in line for hours, desperate to take advantage of some holiday bargains. Customers stampeded over (and around) his lifeless body as an emergency medical team tried to save Jdimytai Damour’s life. That same day two men were shot and killed at a Toys “R” Us in Palm Desert, Calif.
What accounts for this? First are the absurd marketing tools that stores use to whip customers into a near frenzy before Christmas. Corralling people into lines for stores that open as early as 4 a.m. for discount shopping is now common. The gimmick draws dangerously huge numbers of tired shoppers into cramped spaces. These corporate decisions, designed to maximize profits, pay little attention to the dangers inherent in luring people into crowded venues. Second, a lazy media hypes these events by reporting on Black Friday sales around-the-clock in the days before Thanksgiving. Finally, what can only be labeled a total lack of respect for human life is evident, when dozens of people first injure a man and then ignore his desperate cries for help.
These factors combined to make this Black Friday a truly dark day. Christmas is about the gift of life. It should not be about taking life to buy gifts.