Current Comment #6

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 6 ……… October 24th, 2020

OPENING NOTE – Presidential campaigning and coronavirus infection increases dominated the news again this past week, and both topics feature prominently in the pieces included below. In addition, there are two compelling essays on other matters – one examining social media’s questionable approach to moderating hate speech on their platforms, and the other taking a critical look at the questionable approach of certain Supreme Court justices (past, present, and soon to be appointed 😦 ) to interpreting the Constitution from an “originalist” standpoint.

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ITEM #1 – New Yorker contributor Andrew Marantz takes a close look at Facebook’s questionable approach to moderating hate speech and other explicitly dangerous content posted on its pages …

“In public, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, chairman, and C.E.O., often invokes the lofty ideals of free speech and pluralistic debate. But Zuckerberg’s actions make more sense when viewed as an outgrowth of his business model. The company’s incentive is to keep people on the platform—including strongmen and their most avid followers, whose incendiary rhetoric tends to generate a disproportionate amount of engagement. A former Facebook employee told me, ‘Nobody wants to look in the mirror and go, I make a lot of money by giving objectively dangerous people a huge megaphone.’ This is precisely what Facebook’s executives are doing, the former employee continued, ‘but they try to tell themselves a convoluted story about how it’s not actually what they’re doing.’ In retrospect, it seems that the company’s strategy has never been to manage the problem of dangerous content, but rather to manage the public’s perception of the problem.”

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ITEM #2 – New York Times contributing opinion writer Michael Tomasky argues convincingly that, in light of the current politicization of mask-wearing, it’s time for the Democrats to take back ownership of the word “freedom” …

“One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In ‘On Liberty,’ he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means ‘doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.’ Note the clause ‘as long as what we do does not harm them.’ Conservatives revere Mill. But today, in the age of the pandemic, Mill and other conservative heroes like John Locke would be aghast at the way the American right wing bandies about the word ‘freedom.’ Freedom emphatically does not include the freedom to get someone else sick. It does not include the freedom to refuse to wear a mask in the grocery store, sneeze on someone in the produce section and give him the virus. That’s not freedom for the person who is sneezed upon. For that person, the first person’s ‘freedom’ means chains — potential illness and even perhaps a death sentence. No society can function on that definition of freedom.”

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ITEM #3 – Legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky explains the fallacious reasoning behind the theory of “originalism” – espoused by Amy Coney Barrett – as the method for interpreting the Constitution, Uand warns of the dangers it poses to our democracy …

“Rights in the 21st century should not be determined by the understandings and views of centuries ago. This would lead to terrible results. Following originalism would mean that Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided in declaring laws requiring segregation of schools unconstitutional. In fact, under the original public meaning of the Constitution, it would be unconstitutional to elect a woman as president or vice president until the Constitution is amended. Article II refers to them with the pronoun “he,” and there is no doubt that original understanding was that only men could hold these offices. Moreover, it is a myth to think that even identifying an originalist understanding can solve most modern constitutional issues. Can original public meaning really provide useful insights about the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and whether the police can take DNA from a suspect to see if it matches evidence in unsolved crimes or obtain stored cellular phone location information without a warrant?”

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ITEM #4 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof details Trump’s “colossal failure of leadership” on the coronavirus pandemic …

“Trump says he deserves an A-plus for his ‘phenomenal job’ handling the coronavirus, but the judgment of history is likely to be far harsher. ‘It’s really sad to see the U.S. presidency fall from being the champion of global health to being the laughingstock of the world,’ said Devi Sridhar, an American who is a professor of global health at the University of Edinburgh. ‘It was a tragedy of history that Donald Trump was president when this hit.’ Trump did almost everything wrong. He discouraged mask wearing. The administration never rolled out contact tracing, missed opportunities to isolate the infected and exposed, didn’t adequately protect nursing homes, issued advice that confused the issues more than clarified them, and handed responsibilities to states and localities that were unprepared to act.” 

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ITEM #5 – New York Magazine columnist Matt Stieb reports on former president Barack Obama’s speech at a campaign event for Joe Biden in Philadelphia earlier this week …

“’He hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends,’ Obama said of Trump, before a rally of about 300 cars. ‘This is not a reality show. This is reality, and the rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously. There are consequences to [Trump’s] actions. They embolden other people to be cruel & divisive & racist & it frays the fabric of our society. And it affects how our children see things…it affects how the world looks at America. That behavior matters. Character matters’”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/10/obama-rips-into-trump-in-first-in-person-biden-2020-event.html?utm_source=tw

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CLOSING NOTES – Once again, a quick reminder that, if you have a Twitter account, you can get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next week’s edition of Current Comment by following @LiberalBuddhist.

Have a great week, everyone! Take care of yourselves, and stay well … Tom