Commentary & Opinion | WAMC

Commentary & Opinion

The deployment of Federal Law Enforcement Personnel to Portland, Oregon is troubling on many levels.  The threat to send them into Chicago, New York, etc. is also problematic.  Do I think that the authorities in those cities have done a good job containing the riots – probably not, but it is a difficult balancing act to deal with rioting interspersed with peaceful and lawful demonstrations.  I would note POTUS and Mr. Barr make no distinction.  In their minds, anybody who disagrees with them, is a rioter.  

David Nightingale: Douglass

Jul 26, 2020
Frederick Douglass
National Archives and Records Administration - Public Domain

I became interested in Frederick Douglass after seeing his unsmiling and magnificent likeness on a US postage stamp in 1967. Now, I follow up.

Ralph Gardner Jr: It's Corn Season!

Jul 25, 2020
field of corn, ready for harvest
United Soybean Board / Wikimedia Commons

There’s a lot of grim news out there. But here’s some good news. Some very good news: it’s corn season again.

Michael Meeropol: "This Is How It Starts"

Jul 24, 2020

Early in the campaign for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, I stated that I believed Donald Trump was a fascist. Some people for whom I have a great deal of respect said that I was giving him too much credit --- that he was too dumb to really be a fascist. After, all, Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943, was a theorist of fascism. [Anyone interested can see the book he is credited with writing: The Doctrine of Fascism.]   Even insanely crazy Adolf Hitler had written Mein Kampf.   Trump, as his many ghost writers can attest, doesn’t have the attention span to write a decent set of paragraphs, let alone develop any coherent theory about anything.

Bryan Griffin: The Death Of The Pursuit Of Truth

Jul 22, 2020

“I cited their study, so they disavowed it,” writes Heather Mac Donald. Ms. Mac Donald is a political commentator and fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Stephen Gottlieb: Jefferson On Trump

Jul 21, 2020

I was weeding some of my papers last Saturday and found a copy of a letter sent by Thomas Jefferson from Paris, where he was representing this country, on December 20, 1787, to James Madison here in America. As a slave-holder, Jefferson committed grievous wrongs, but Thomas Jefferson wasn’t stupid and what he wrote struck me because he was precisely describing what we most fear today. Jefferson’s letter was about the Constitution. He played no part in writing it, stationed in Paris as he was. But having gotten a look, he wrote his friend about what he did and didn’t like.

Blair Horner: Voting Protections Are Still Needed

Jul 20, 2020

In New York, making new laws and changing old ones is supposed to be a deliberative process.  Normally, lawmakers introduce bills, the bills get referred to a committee, committee legislators and staff review the provisions, and then – sometimes – the bill is put to a vote.  From there the bill can be sent to the relevant floor of either the Senate or Assembly for final consideration.  If approved by both houses, that bill then goes to the governor and his staff for review before action. 

This past week large banks announced significant declines in net profit as a result of significant increases in reserves for loan losses.  This same phenomenon occurred in 2008-2009, when banking institutions suffered significant losses, as well.  These loan losses are estimates of what the anticipated losses will be, and as a result, if those loan losses do not come to fruition, those reserves are reversed and treated as profit in a later year.  Hopefully that is what we see.

Ralph Gardner Jr : What's That Plant?

Jul 18, 2020
Bull thistle plant
Ralph Gardner Jr.

Imagine if there was a way to make yourself more intelligent. A pill you could take without side effects – except, perhaps, to make you insufferable – or a breakfast drink after whose consumption you’d actually know what you were talking about.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on abortion, LGBTQ rights and protections for undocumented immigrants had liberals cheering Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and conservatives decrying his perceived leftward shift.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Pedagogy And Prophecy

Jul 16, 2020

In addition to my full-time job as a congregational rabbi, I teach Jewish religious studies to middle school students twice a week at our community’s parochial day school.  I’m there to help my young charges understand – and maybe even appreciate – the vast rabbinic tradition of Judaism, which successfully interpreted the Bible and created the foundation for what we call Jewish religion.  Under the best circumstances, this is a supremely difficult task. The distracted and all-too-concrete middle school brain is at striking odds with the often abstract and demanding literature of the ancient Jewish sages.  The ears of a contemporary American teenager are so attuned to what they deem to be relevant and modern, that they are often deaf to the authentic yet ancient voices of the old-time faith.  Under the current circumstances of COVID isolation and Zoom learning, I approached these last few months with my students in anxious anticipation of dismal failure.  In a strange and sweet surprise, my students proved my fears unfounded.  Nearly all of them showed up to class, on time, every session; they brought their more relaxed social selves – pajamas, breakfast and all – onto our Zoom sessions, and, perish the thought, they dug into the demanding projects I assigned them, not despite our classroom’s new-normal, but because of it.

Stephen Gottlieb: Our Human Constitution

Jul 14, 2020

Recently I spoke with a class of high school girls. They asked me to talk about the Constitution and we agreed I’d talk about how we interpret it. I wasn’t advocating any particular method. In fact, I referred to the late Justice John Paul Stevens, adopting an observation by the then sitting president of the Israeli Supreme Court, that a judge does best who “’seek[s] guidance from every reliable source.’”[i]

Lawmakers return to Albany this week and both houses will be holding a joint hearing on the state’s redistricting process.

A recent article in the New York Times raised an important question about “How deadly is the Corona Virus?”.  We have all had the opportunity to review enumerable statistics which have not necessarily brought clarity to the question.  We know now that cases are rising rapidly, that hospitalizations are increasing (in many places to capacity), and deaths are significantly lower than prior experience would indicate.  The authors of the article did an in-depth analysis and touched on a couple of points that I think are important.  First, who’s currently being infected, and what impact does age and overall health have in either having a mild, if not asymptomatic case, will those who are infected transmit it to others so that the more vulnerable population is again attacked by the virus, and ultimately, the question becomes what, if anything, can we do to stop the spread?  We have all heard the mantra of mask, social distancing, washing hands and avoiding large, particularly indoor groups.  If the public is going to persist in going unmasked, failing to social distance and attending large indoor events, then the likelihood is that the rate of contagion will continue.  Ultimately, the question that the public has to ask itself is, are they prepared to go into the unknown without any protection, it seems like a large number of people are and we are going to have to wait and see how many of the people that they care about become significantly ill, and possibly die.  The authors concluded that statistically the worldwide rate of deaths is less than 1%, but if you multiply that percentage times the people in the world or in the United States, it is a very large number, well into the millions in the United States and the tens of millions in the world.  Are we prepared for that outcome?

Ralph Gardner Jr: The Lost Sports Of Summer

Jul 11, 2020
Final of the ladies' lawn tennis single tournament at the 1908 Summer Olympics, at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon. Dorothea Douglass vs. Dora Boothby.
Illustration in the "Fourth Olympiad 1908 London Official Report" published by the British Olympic Association in 1909 / Public Domain - Wikimedia Commons

A year ago today, or yesterday or tomorrow I’d be doing what I always did on a beautiful summer day during the first couple of weeks of July. I’d be indoors, glued to the TV – with occasional fresh air breaks – watching Wimbledon.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Case For Black Reparations

Jul 7, 2020

Many years ago, one of my professors at law school, Boris Bittker, wrote a book called The Case for Black Reparations. Bittker was known mostly for his work on taxation, but he cared and wrote a great deal about race. One year at Reunions, he took my wife and me to see a pair of very interesting films about the confinement of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast in internment camps during World War II, and the experience of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, many of whom served in the American military. Bittker’s book on black reparations went through the issues in a very lawyerly way as if he were arguing to a court. But let me describe it on a very human level.

The Wheel, set to perform at the Jericho Drive-in Tuesday, July 21.
Frank Cavone / Mirth Films

TROY – This time last year, community concerts like Albany’s Live at Five, Troy’s Rockin’ on the River and Saratoga’s On the Roof at the Tang Museum were just a few of the free concerts available almost any night of the week and in every town. Free music was abundant, fun and it united communities.

Blair Horner: Rebalancing New York's Democracy

Jul 6, 2020

A hallmark of American democracy is the concept of political power balanced among the branches of government.  This system of “checks and balances” was baked into our representative form of government so that no one branch could operate without constraints.  And while that system has evolved over the years, that balance is still central.

On the topic of Canadian trade there is mixed news.  The USMCA went into effect on July 1, the White House threatens tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, while at the same time, being more welcoming to certain business visa holders (L-1s, etc.) coming in from Canada; the border remains closed, and in my view, given the uptick in cases in the United States and the irrational activity of the administration, it is unlikely that Canada will agree to an opening at the end of July.  The fact that Canadian business people will be able to travel to the United States lessens the pressure for the border to fully reopen since they are asking and others are not. Damage, however, is being done to our tourist economy, both along the Canadian border, and if this persists for many months, it could well impact Florida and Arizona in the Fall and next Winter.  Mr. Lighthizer in his recent testimony talked tough about how the US would enforce the USMCA. 

We at WAMC are living in the same times you are. None of what we are going through with the COVID-19 pandemic or the Trump presidency is easy for any of us. Luckily, we have an incredible staff at WAMC who have made the weight of our task lighter.Take someone like Ian Pickus, our wonderful news director. Ian must balance a large staff spread out in so many directions and integrate the work of the news division with everything else going on at the station.

David Nightingale: Toothpick Technology

Jul 5, 2020

No internet now for three days.

I’d reluctantly called the company – reluctantly because I usually try to sort these things out myself – and had now done all the things the disembodied recording had told me to do. Unplug this, unplug that, wait two minutes, re-plug, etc. And the voice had asked me if it was now working, press 1 for yes, 2 for no.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Watching The Seasons Go By

Jul 4, 2020

Before this March the longest uninterrupted stretch of time I spent at our home in Columbia County – dating back to childhood when my grandparents owned the place – was a week or two at a time.

On June 23, David Brooks published an article on The Atlantic website entitled “Bruce Springsteen’s Playlist for the Trump Era.”Brooks introduced the article thusly:

Bryan Griffin: The Values Of A Conservative

Jul 1, 2020

In 1964, future President Ronald Reagan was addressing a crowd of conservatives about the upcoming presidential election. He had recently switched from the Democratic Party, and this speech would launch him into national prominence. He told these conservatives:

I wanted to deliver this last week but Trump’s use of the military against domestic protestors had me fear for the future of our republic and I put this off.

Fred Kowal: What Have We Become?

Jun 30, 2020

How many must die to satisfy the malevolent narcissism of one man?

Blair Horner: New York Holds A Primary In A Pandemic

Jun 29, 2020

Last week, New York State held its primary elections.  What made this election unique was that it took place during the coronavirus pandemic.  As a result of a gubernatorial decree, all eligible New York voters received paperwork that allowed them to request an absentee ballot due to the possibility of infection from the virus.

Andrew Pallotta: Education - An Avenue To Equality

Jun 29, 2020

Our hearts were broken this spring by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, racial and economic inequalities within our nation were already laid bare. And with his death, the need for change took on new urgency. We at NYSUT were heartened that New York State lawmakers responded quickly to widespread calls for change by instituting criminal justice reforms in June.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Let's Hear It For Customer Support

Jun 27, 2020
A Ring security system selfie
Ralph Gardner Jr.

Placing an online order, or calling for technical support only to be asked to fill out a customer satisfaction survey seconds later can be annoying. What am I saying? Typically these days you’re asked whether you’d be willing to take their survey even before they connect you to a representative.

My heart wants to talk about the momentous things happening in our country but the disloyalty of this president is too frightening to talk about anything else.