Current Comment #7

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 7 ……… October 31st, 2020

Happy Halloween, everyone!

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice in the kind of reckless super-spreader event we’ve come to expect from the Trump administration, the Dalai Lama made a welcome appearance in New York’s Times Square on this George Floyd billboard, and the presidential race entered the final days of the campaign with the unmistakable contrast between Biden’s decency and Trump’s lack of the same on full display day after day (or, as PBS NewsHour commentator Mark Shields describes the difference, Biden campaigns as the “we” president, Trump as the “me” president).

The three articles selected this week inform us of a former president we could be proud of and moved by, a current attorney general we ought to be very cautious about, and a traditional Buddhist teaching that can support us in the uncertain times that lie ahead …

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Selection #1 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman reminds us of the time – not that long ago, although it seems like a decade or two – that we could be proud of, and moved by, the intelligence and the compassion of our president …

“Trump has so redefined decency down that we have forgotten what is normal, let alone optimal, in an American president. We have forgotten what it is like to have a truth-teller, a healer, in the White House, someone who starts his day with at least the inclination to unite the country and to project America at its best for the world — not someone who has lived every day in office aspiring to be president only of his base, while offering anyone at home or abroad looking to the United States for inspiration just one message: Show me the money.”

PS – Be sure to click on the link in this article to see the video clip of Meklit and the Kronos Quartet in their memorable performance of “The President Sang Amazing Grace”.

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Selection #2 – New York Review of Books columnist Fintan O’Toole profiles the current Attorney General, William Barr, and shows clearly how he is not at all the person that he purports to be …

“Because of his suave, courteous, even jovial demeanor and intellectual acumen, and his long record as a member of the pre-Trump Republican establishment, it seems superficially plausible to look to Barr as the one who might ultimately seek to restrain Trump and protect the basic institutional and constitutional order. All evidence—including ProPublica’s report on October 7 that the Department of Justice has now weakened its long-standing prohibition against interfering in elections by allowing federal investigators ‘to take public investigative steps before the polls close, even if those actions risk affecting the outcome of the election’—points in the opposite direction. The desire to believe in Barr as a potential savior of democracy goes deep. [Some of us] believed that Barr would use the independence of his office ‘to prevent us turning into a banana republic.’ But no one who has thought about Barr’s ideological formation, and in particular his views on the nature of authority, should be so naive.”

{Note – I was unable to embed the full article here … please click on “Attorney General, William Barr” above for a link to it.}

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Selection #3 – Buddhist teacher and social activist David Loy explains how the teaching “don’t-know mind” is a useful practice, never more so than as we prepare for the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming presidential election …

“We are now living through the most dangerous moment in human history – the climate crisis, threat of nuclear war, rising authoritarianism, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic breakdown, increasing social polarization, and the November election, in which many of those problems are at stake, perhaps including the very future of our democracy. Buddhist teachings have always emphasized impermanence, and this year certainly offers us plenty of examples to demonstrate that truth. The instability of the world that most of us nonetheless took for granted has become more apparent and the future seems more unpredictable than ever. We may not know what happens after we cast our ballot in what could be the most important election in US history, but there is good reason to believe we’re in for a wild ride.” 

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THE WEEK AHEAD … Tuesday, November 3rd, Election Day. Only a mere six words in that sentence, but they bear the fate and future of the country, and perhaps even the world. Here’s hoping that (1) we have an outcome by the end of the week; and (2) it’s an outcome that liberals, Buddhists, and all of humanity can take hope in.

If you’d like a head start reading the articles in next week’s edition, and you have a Twitter account, please follow @LiberalBuddhist.

In the meantime, take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom

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

Current Comment #5

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and commentary.

Vol 1, No 5 ……… October 17th, 2020

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OPENING NOTE – Beginning with this edition, Current Comment commences with its new once-a-week schedule, and will be posted on The Liberal Buddhist blog by mid-afternoon every Saturday. 

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ITEM #1 – New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll shows how the one and only consistently reliable characteristic of Trump’s chaotic presidency has been his complete and utter incompetence …

“It is painful to reflect today on the tens of thousands of lives that might have been saved if a less reality-challenged President occupied the White House. Trump has been consistently unreliable across the eight-month arc of our national crisis. Last week, as he recuperated from his own bout of Covid-19, he unleashed a fresh torrent of tweets and videos. These offered transparent nonsense (‘Maybe I’m immune’) and also dangerous lies, such as the claim that for most people the coronavirus is ‘far less lethal!!!’ than the seasonal flu. (Scientists report that the coronavirus is about six times more deadly than the typical flu virus.) It remains unclear just how the outbreak began and spread, but such an occurrence was perhaps inevitable, given the Administration’s refusal to require masks and physical distancing in the White House and at public events. Eventually, journalists and biographers will sort out exactly what the President knew about his own possible contagiousness before October 2nd, the day he announced that he had tested positive—and how he handled any risk that he might infect others. On October 4th, during his hospitalization at Walter Reed, when he was almost certainly contagious, he staged a photo op in which he was driven around in an S.U.V. and waved to onlookers. At least two Secret Service agents were required to join him in the sealed, armored vehicle, putting them at risk of exposure. It was an inane campaign stunt, and a study in selfishness. The essence of Trump’s failure during the pandemic does not lie with his Administration’s crisis management, botched as that has been; it is the result of his character.”

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ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof argues convincingly that what matters most about any Supreme Court justice nominee is not whether they’re liberal or conservative, but whether they are looking to bring us forward or take us backward …

“[Amy Coney] Barrett is not a horrible person; on the contrary, she seems to be a smart lawyer with an admirable personal story. Yet she’s working with a gang of Republican senators to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. This grand larceny may well succeed. But for voters, this hearing should underscore the larger battle over the direction of the country. Voters can’t weigh in on the Barrett nomination, but they can correct this country’s course. Here’s the fundamental question: Will voters reward the party that is working to provide more health care, or the party that has painstakingly robbed one million children of insurance? Will voters help tug the United States forward, or will they support the backward thinkers who have been on the side of discrimination, racism, bigotry and voter suppression? At the polls, which side of history will you stand on?”

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ITEM #3 – The Editorial Board of the New York Times makes an overwhelming case for the unfitness of Donald Trump to be the president of the United States …

“Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II. Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.”

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CLOSING NOTES – A quick reminder that, as a follower of The Liberal Buddhist blog, you’ll receive not only each weekly edition of Current Comment, but also periodic posts featuring original political, literary, and cultural commentary.

And, if you have a Twitter account, you can get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next edition of Current Comment by following @LiberalBuddhist.

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