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Jim Verhulst - Deputy Editor of Editorials
Here’s what to read from the left and the right | Column
Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
The exterior of Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.
The exterior of Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. [ JUSTIN SULLIVAN | Getty Images North America ]
Published Dec. 12, 2020

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.

FROM THE LEFT

From “We Need Five Days’ Pay for Four Days’ Work,” by Aidan Harper in Jacobin Magazine.

The context, from the author: Working time reduction has always been used as a way of distributing available work and reducing unemployment. In our era of crisis, we need to fight for a four-day week.

The excerpt: As we attempt to move toward recovery, workers and their unions should feel emboldened knowing that they are owed a significant reduction in working time after four decades of stagnation: the working week has barely decreased since the 1980s. They should also feel confident in the knowledge that countries who work fewer hours are likely to be more productive.

From “Who Gets a Say in Our Dystopian Tech Future?” by Josephine Livingstone in the New Republic.

The context, from the author: Artificial Intelligence research scientist Timnit Gebru raised red flags about Google’s most exciting new tech. She says she was forced out for it.

The excerpt: At the heart of the Gebru scandal is an old story, about the way whistleblowers are punished by profit-seeking executives who instinctively know how to weaponize difference markers like race or gender to win the game. But the scale Google operates at guarantees that its biases — which are intrinsic to all unequal workplaces and need to be actively corrected — will in the future expand to represent the conditions of human existence. Gebru’s work to date has shown that, perhaps inevitably, machine learning is absorbing the biases and misunderstandings that human beings are already susceptible to—in particular those that proliferate among the executive class in Silicon Valley, who get to choose whose voices are heard (literally and figuratively) and are disproportionately male. These are quickly developing technologies that, as they touch more and more parts of our lives, carry real possibilities and real risk.

From “Do We Need To Abolish Child Protective Services?” by Molly Schwartz in Mother Jones.

The context, from the author: There are, of course, instances of terrible child abuse, and it’s the mission of Administration for Children’s Services in New York City and child welfare agencies across the country to intervene. But often the child is not in danger and the caseworker has made a judgment call based only on the way the family is living.

The excerpt: Joyce McMillan knows what it looks like when ACS steps in to offer “support.” She’s a Black mother, and one day in 1999, an ACS caseworker appeared at her door because someone had alleged that she wasn’t caring for her children properly. Thus began a 20-year struggle, with McMillan defending her parental rights in order to keep her two daughters in her care. Building on her intimate knowledge of ACS’s bureaucracy, hard won through personal experience, McMillan now helps other parents fight the system.

FROM THE RIGHT

From “Will Biden Give In to the Hydroxy Effect?” by Victor Davis Hanson in the National Review.

The context, from the author: The Hydroxy Effect — hysterical disavowal of anything Trump has endorsed — is dangerous to the country at large.

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The excerpt: Biden has two choices. One, he can appropriate many of the Trump successes. He can rebrand them as his own and quibble over particulars. Do that, and Biden would likely see a huge post-COVID-19 economic recovery, a stable Middle East, a world united against China’s commercial abuses and human-rights travesties, beefed-up U.S. defenses, and a refreshed NATO. Or two, Biden can suffer the Hydroxy Effect. Anything Trump was for, Biden and the Left will be automatically against.

From “Robert Putnam Searches For The Common Good,” by Robert Bellafiore in the American Conservative.

The context, from the author: The author of “Bowling Alone” is committed to American renewal. But is his liberal communitarianism up to the task?

The excerpt: Putnam is not just a scholar, but a prophet, calling on Americans to change their ways before it is too late. One cannot help but be moved by his spirited, lifelong dedication to American renewal. Indeed, Putnam is an exemplar of the patriotic devotion to the common good that he exhorts readers to adopt as their own. And yet Putnam’s strand of liberal communitarianism may blind him to important factors in the upswing (in Americans’ dedication to the common good that peaked long ago). He rejects the possibility that severe immigration restrictions from 1924 to 1965 could have contributed to stronger social solidarity, despite the fact that they ended right when our cohesion reached its inflection point.

From “Trumpism Triumphant,” by Mona Charen in the Bulwark.

The context, from the author: Even in defeat, the GOP surrenders to the nutcases.

The excerpt: The resentment motive can’t account for our volume of crazy. A theme that unified these conspiracy-minded people was a sense of superiority — not inferiority. They felt that they had access to the hidden truth that the deluded masses didn’t understand. It was a key feature of Rush Limbaugh’s appeal. He frequently suggested that he understood that real story beneath the official version, and could penetrate the opaque Washington drama by stripping away the polite fictions to reveal the ugly realities beneath.

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