Current Comment #10

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 10 ……… November 21st, 2020

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ Another week of President-elect Biden continuing to be patient and presidential, and of the (hopefully) outgoing President Trump continuing to act puerile and pitifully. The world’s leaders are increasingly more welcoming of Biden, while the occupant of the White House is increasingly isolated and unsuccessful in his attempts to undo the election results. The daily drama of waiting for Trump to concede while worrying about what dangerous actions he may yet unleash in his bid to retain power has exerted unprecedented stress upon the country. What is normally a time of calm in the wake of the election contest just ended, and of peaceful transition from the outgoing administration to the incoming one, is instead a time of intense agitation and heightened polarization. As regards America’s four-years-long national nightmare, sadly it’s not over yet.

The two selections that follow each explore the prospects ahead in the next four years – the first a realistic assessment of what we must expect, the second an inspirational picture of what we might hope for.

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Selection #1 – The New York Review of Books political commentator Michael Tomasky defines the limits of the Democrats’ electoral victory and outlines the challenges that await Joe Biden …

“The election demonstrated, more intensely than any other before, that Americans inhabit two different moral universes. In our personal lives, we may share broadly similar ideas about what constitutes right and wrong: how to raise children, how to be responsible friends and family members. But on political matters, we see two opposite realities.  The ‘Democratic brand’ is in trouble in vast stretches of the country. The party must determine why. Joe Biden will reset our struggling democracy in some important regards. He will shift away from Vladimir Putin and toward our traditional allies. He will not interfere in Justice Department investigations. He won’t fire his FBI director because the bureau is investigating him. These are not small matters. But what was needed in this election to turn back this dark tide was a much broader repudiation of Trumpism than the voters delivered.”

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/12/17/election-2020-what-did-democrats-win/?utm_source=nybooks&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=email-share

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Selection #2 – This speaker needs no introduction, and his remarks require no excerpt. As we came to expect during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, and as we have so sorely missed during the four years of Trump’s, here is a welcome display of presidential eloquence and erudition. Enjoy …

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THE WEEK AHEAD ~ A short news week looms before us as America prepares for its first – and hopefully last – Covid-19 Thanksgiving weekend. Wishing all of you a safe and happy holiday!

As always, take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom

https://twitter.com/LiberalBuddhist

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 #3

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering.

October 6th ~ October 9th, 2020

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ITEM #1 – The New York Times endorses Joe Biden for president …

“Mr. Biden has vowed to ‘restore the soul of America.’ It is a painful reminder that the country is weaker, angrier, less hopeful and more divided than it was four years ago. With this promise, Mr. Biden is assuring the public that he recognizes the magnitude of what the next president is being called upon to do. In the midst of unrelenting chaos, Mr. Biden is offering an anxious, exhausted nation something beyond policy or ideology. His campaign is rooted in steadiness, experience, compassion and decency.”

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ITEM #2 – Legal scholar and former Department of Justice attorney Mary McCord depicts the growing threat posed to our democracy by private militias …

“Twenty-five states prohibit teaching, demonstrating or practicing in the use of firearms or ‘techniques’ capable of causing injury or death for use during a civil disorder. Eighteen states prohibit either the false assumption of the duties of public officials, including law-enforcement officials, or the wearing of uniforms similar to military uniforms. All these laws point to a single conclusion: There is no right in any state for groups of individuals to arm themselves and organize either to oppose or augment the government. Now, more than ever, state and local officials must enforce these statutes. In battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as other hotbeds of militia activity like Oregon, Idaho, Virginia and Texas, they must ready themselves for unlawful private militias showing up at the polls and on the streets during ballot counting and beyond.”

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ITEM #3 – A compelling, comprehensive video review of Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, titled “American Pathogen” …

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Current Comment is a twice-weekly feature of The Liberal Buddhist, published on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings (Eastern time). Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition.

And, of course, The Liberal Buddhist continues to feature original essays of political, literary, and cultural commentary – all viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal philosophy.

Not yet following The Liberal Buddhist? Just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right, and you won’t miss a single edition of Current Comment, nor the occasional original posting.

See you again in a few days. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Current Comment #1

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering. This edition covers the period from September 29th through October 2nd, 2020.

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ITEM #1 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman explains in no uncertain terms why we should all be extremely alarmed at the prospect of another four years of Trump …

“I can’t say this any more clearly: Our democracy is in terrible danger — more danger than it has been since the Civil War, more danger than after Pearl Harbor, more danger than during the Cuban missile crisis and more danger than during Watergate. The Republicans have fallen in line lock step behind a man who is the most dishonest, dangerous, mean-spirited, divisive and corrupt person to ever occupy the Oval Office. And they know it. Four more years of Trump’s divide and rule will destroy our institutions and rip the country apart.”

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ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni points out some useful lessons we can draw from Trump’s having tested positive for the coronavirus …

“The most obvious [lesson] is that the coronavirus has not gone away and there is no guarantee, contrary to the president’s sunny prophecies, that it’s going away anytime soon, certainly not if we’re cavalier about it. Which brings up another moral, also obvious but apparently necessary to articulate: There is a real risk in being cavalier. The president is now the embodiment of that. It is time, at long last, to learn. To be smarter. To be safer. To be more responsible, to others as well as to ourselves. The way to treat President Trump’s diagnosis is as a turning point and a new start. This is when we woke up.”

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ITEM #3 – New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait examines Trump’s responsibility for his own positive diagnosis, as well as for the more than seven million cases in the country so far …

“As coronavirus victims go, Donald Trump is as far from innocent as you can get. [He] is deeply culpable not only for the national response to the pandemic but his own condition. Trump’s heedlessness of contagion was a predominant theme of his campaign. The president denied the seriousness of the pandemic from the outset. His campaign was a visual affirmation of his claim that the virus would disappear, that hardly anybody is affected, that the “lockdowns” are a plot by Democrats to sabotage his reelection.  The truth is that Trump’s positive diagnosis is more evidence of his own incompetence and unfitness for office. The pandemic he did almost nothing to contain has finally come home.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/10/trump-coronavirus-positive-test-rallies-biden-masks-circles-social-distancing.html?utm_source=tw

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Closing comment – If you are already a follower of The Liberal Buddhist, you may expect to receive Current Comment postings on a regular twice-weekly schedule – Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition. And, of course, you can still expect to receive the occasional blogpost of my own thoughts on both domestic and global issues of concern viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal political philosophy.

If you are not yet a follower of The Liberal Buddhist and would like to receive future editions of Current Comment as well as original posts, just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right.

See you again in a few days with the next edition of Current Comment. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …