Posts Tagged ‘politics’


Before You Bomb Korea, Mr. President

August 13, 2017

Dear Mr. President,

Before you decide to bomb North Korea, please consider carefully the impact of your actions on the people of South Korea. Last year I spent two weeks there, with two dozen other Americans and our two Korean-born priests, celebrating the centennial of my religious community, Won Buddhism. As you have increased the intensity of your threats regarding possible actions on the Korean peninsula this week, I am constantly reminded of the many wonderful people I met, people who will suffer the most from actions you may choose to take.

I am reminded of the retired women Won Buddhist priests we spent a morning with. We ended our time by exchanging hugs. I expected to be the giver of affection, and was deeply moved when instead I received overwhelming feelings of love from these women to whom I could say nothing. The deep-seated joy they radiated defied age and language. Are you willing to let these women suffer?

I am reminded of the family I spent a day and evening with. The father, a retired government minister and now a professor, who spoke to me of his last great professional goal, to free the people of North Korea from the destitution he witnessed during his trips there on behalf of his government. The mother, who welcomed me into her home and fed me wonderful Korean food and even did my laundry. Their daughter, who works as a business translator, helping companies conduct meetings in real time in English and Korean. They spent six years in our country while the father earned graduate degrees. Now they live 40 miles from the North Korean border in a suburb of Seoul. Are you willing to let this family suffer?

I am reminded of the Won Buddhist seminary students we spent an evening with. They are preparing to dedicate their lives to the service of others. Most will stay in Korea, but some will leave behind the familiarity of family and friends and go to America and other countries, as the two priests at my temple did. As we rounded the corner of a building to meet them, we saw them waiting for us outside. They began to cheer for us, like we were celebrities. Once inside, we spoke with them and chanted and meditated with them, filling our meeting hall with mutual affection. When we left, they walked us outside and cheered us again, waving until we were out of sight. Are you willing to let these young people suffer?

I felt this spirit of kindness and generosity and hospitality every day of my visit. The South Koreans are an incredible people. In three generations they have transformed a land devastated by colonization and war into the world’s sixth-largest economy. In two generations they have moved from violent dictatorship to vibrant democracy. They have been our steadfast ally in a crucial part of the world. Should you choose to act rashly in response to a bully’s words and the waving of his fists, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who live among them may be able to board a ship or a plane and leave Korea. But the people I met there will have no such choice. They will instead be asked to bear the consequences of your actions. Please keep those people in mind, Mr. President, and please choose your actions carefully.


50 Years Since a Week That Still Shapes Our Lives

September 27, 2010

According to this morning’s USA Today, yesterday marked 50 years since the first Kennedy-Nixon televised debate. While it would be 26 years until Ford and Carter renewed the tradition, televised debates now occur in every presidential and vice-presidential election, and in many congressional and gubernatorial races too. Along with letting voters size up candidates in the same room at the same time, these debates have given us Nixon’s five o’clock shadow, Ford’s claim that Poland in 1976 was not under Soviet domination, Reagan’s “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” ¬†and “There you go again” in 1980, Lloyd Bentsen’s “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you sir, are no Jack Kennedy” in 1988 (to fellow VP candidate Dan Quayle), Ross Perot’s “I’m all ears” in 1992, and both “Joe the Plumber” and Sarah Palin’s winking “You betcha” in 2008. That’s a lot of history in a handful of televised hours.

One reason there wasn’t another debate until 1976 is that most pundits believe the first Kennedy-Nixon debate swung the election to JFK. He won the popular vote by 0.1%, and his electoral win was the closest in half a century, so small distinctions between the candidates could make a huge difference. Voters who listened to that first debate on the radio thought it was a draw, but those watching on TV gave JFK a significant win. The reasons are now famous: JFK relaxed in Florida for a few days before, and showed up tan and rested; Nixon was recovering from illness, had continued to campaign until just before the debate, wore no makeup (hence the visible five o’clock shadow), and wore a suit nearly the same color as the backdrop behind him–all of which made him look weaker than his rival. And thus was birthed Camelot, the frequent televised presidential press conference (Obama, please, a little more JFK here and a little less Ike), and the modern presidential debate.

According to Saturday’s NY Times, tomorrow will mark 50 years since the event that led to arguably the greatest sports essay ever written, John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” Updike was one of barely 10,000 fans at Ted Williams’ last game for the Boston Red Sox, the game where Williams used his last at bat famously hit a home run (his 521st; the only reason he didn’t hit 700 was because he gave six years of his prime to serve his country) and even more famously would not tip his cap to the crowd afterward. Updike, who never wrote again about sports, could not have known that he had launched a form of essay, transcending game recaps to place sports in deeper literary and cultural contexts.

That’s one helluva week.


An Occasion for Courage

August 18, 2010

In the right’s latest attempt to turn back the Democratic victories of 2006 and ’08, a project to build a Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero has been twisted into a “mosque” “at” Ground Zero. While the planning commission reviewing the request to build the center unanimously approved the request, and while NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg resoundingly supported the Muslim community’s right to build it, others less courageous want the center moved.

The grandest part of the American experiment in democracy is its insistence on preserving the rights of minorities when majority views threaten those rights. From the ending of slavery to the inclusion of women as equals, our path as a nation has been widening with time. Even as we stumble toward inclusion for the rights of gays and lesbians–and though stumble we may, our momentum carries us forward–there is now this attempt to narrow the rights of Muslims, because those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were also Muslims.

While it’s clear that the pain of that day is still very strong for most Americans, that doesn’t grant us a license to limit fundamental Constitutional rights. In fact, it is in such times that we must insist on supporting these most cherished rights. This is a moment that demands that we respond with courage, that we trust that our system can flourish–that it can *only* flourish–when all of us live our lives with all of our rights intact at all times. It’s a shame that so many politicians, especially Democrats, refuse to trust that system and express support for it.


Yeah, the Media Probably *Would* Focus on That

January 30, 2009

I was watching MSNBC while eating my lunch today, and they are covering the RNC's election of its new national chair. One candidate getting strong support is from South Carolina, but he belongs to an all-white country club. One guy whined to the MSNBC reporter off-camera, "If we picked him, that's all you guys in the media would talk about."

I don't know which is more stunning in the Age of Obama: that all-white country clubs still exist, or that a candidate to head the Republican Party could be taken seriously for more than two seconds once it was revealed he was a member of one.

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I Love My Government

January 23, 2009

Day One: a stirring inauguration, millions of my fellow citizens dancing with joy in my nation's capital.

Day Two: questionable past executive policies under review, meetings with top economic officials, meetings with top military officials, everybody moving at full speed after eight years of governmental ennui

Day Three: Guantanamo closing, Hillary greeted like a Stanley Cup champion at the State Department


Never before have I felt so positive about my government. Now, about that economy….

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We Must Prosecute Torturers

January 16, 2009

I can't believe I have gone a month without a post. As Val would say, "Weak sauce."

What's on my mind this week more than anything else is the decision the new Justice Department is going to have to make about prosecuting members of the Bush administration for war crimes relating to their use of torture. I heard the president-elect last weekend say, in his usual balanced way, "On the one hand, no one is above the law; on the other, we have to look forward, not back."

Mr. Obama, if you choose not to prosecute torture committed by our government, regardless of how it was rationalized, then look what lies ahead: a future president who sees what has happened in the last seven years and decides s/he also has impunity to commit torture. To look ahead and see an America that claims to be a world leader in many ways, including morally, you have to see and America that brings its law-breakers to justice. Committing torture removes any claims of higher ground we dare to stake. Preserving basic human rights is what allows a nation to call itself civilized. Please, Mr. Obama, let me look ahead and see justice in my country.

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Carolina Blue

November 6, 2008

The AP has just called North Carolina for Barack Obama. I live in a blue state! This is great news–another southern state in Obama's column, another red state flipped, another symbol of our changing nation.

When Vicki and I moved here in 1990, Harvey Gantt was running for the US Senate against Jesse Helms. Gantt was a civil rights pioneer of his own–the first black student admitted to Clemson (from which he graduated with honors) and the first African-American mayor of Charlotte. I thought we were arriving just in time to send him to the Senate and Jesse back home. But it was not meant to be.

North Carolina is different now. Attitudes change, lots more Democratic yanks like me have moved here, and the Obama campaign registered thousands of new voters and got them to vote (I even spent three hours last Saturday calling folks to vote early). We may be the reddest of blue states now, but for this Duke fan even Carolina Blue looks beautiful today.

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