Selected readings from the left and from the right

Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
Published February 15

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 World’s Most Dangerous Nuclear Weapon Just Rolled Off the Assembly Line,” by James Carroll in the Nation (reprinted from

The context, from the author: With the creation of a new “mini-nuke” warhead, the Unites States is making nuclear war all the more probable.

The excerpt: (This weapon) will yield “only” about one-third of the devastating power of the weapon that the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber, dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Yet that very shrinkage of the power to devastate is precisely what makes this nuclear weapon potentially the most dangerous ever manufactured. Fulfilling the Trump administration’s quest for nuclear-war-fighting “flexibility,” it isn’t designed as a deterrent against another country launching its nukes; it’s designed to be used. This is the weapon that could make the previously “unthinkable” thinkable.

From “Marco Rubio, Trump’s Shadow Secretary of State,” by Lauren Kaori Gurley in the New Republic.

The context: How the senator from Florida went from being “Liddle Marco” to dictating U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.

The excerpt: Rubio has hounded Trump to take a hard line stance against the so-called “troika of tyranny”: Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. ... But his agenda doesn’t stop there. Recent moves suggest that Rubio has his eyes on the total reversal of the so-called Pink Tide of left-leaning governments that dominated Latin American politics in the early 2000s. And he’s just getting started.

From “It’s Time to Try Fossil-Fuel Executives for Crimes Against Humanity,” by Kate Aronoff in Jacobin Magazine.

The context, from the author: It isn’t hyperbole to say that fossil-fuel executives are mass murderers. We should put them on trial for crimes against humanity.

The excerpt: Fossil-fuel executives may not have intended to destroy the world as we know it. And climate change may not look like the kinds of attacks we’re used to. But they’ve known what their industry is doing to the planet for a long time, and the effects are likely to be still more brutal if the causes are allowed to continue.


From “Conspicuous Consumption, Inconspicuous Poverty,” by Kevin D. Williamson in the National Review.

The context, from the author: There’s a whole genre of conservative columns on the theme of: “Look at all the nice things supposedly poor people have: Flat-screen televisions! Air conditioning! Multiple cars per household!” It wasn’t my turn to write that column this year, and, while it’s a useful one for perspective, this isn’t that column. Not exactly. But it is the case that citizens and social critics and policymakers need to do a better job distinguishing between matters of price and choice.

The excerpt: Democrats used to talk about the poor more than they do today. Lyndon Johnson, for all his political shortcomings and personal hideousness, knew poverty, had seen and smelled poverty, and hated poverty. Democrats today talk about the middle class because that’s where the votes are. Republicans talk about ... how many flat-screen televisions poor people have, mostly.

From “Social Engineering Doesn’t Work? Blame the Genes,” by Robert VerBruggen in the American Conservative.

The context, from the author: The science shows that human nature is largely fixed, much to the chagrin of both left and right.

The excerpt: We’re simply not as malleable as we’d like. Neither the Left’s fantasies of extreme social engineering nor the Right’s prized equal opportunity will give everyone a fair shot at success. But there are encouraging signs as well.

From “Jordan Peterson on Mythology, Fame and Reading People,” an interview of the Canadian clinical psychologist by libertarian-leaning economist Tyler Cowen on his Mercatus Center podcast.

The context (this is one question to Peterson from a long-form interview: What do most other smart people not understand about talent search?): I don’t think that people want to understand the rule of raw general cognitive ability because it’s such a determining factor, and it’s hard for people on the right and the left to accept it. People on the right think there’s a job for everyone if they just get off their lazy a-- and do it, and people on the left think anybody can be trained to do anything. Both of those things are seriously wrong.

The excerpt: The American military decided a couple of decades ago that it was illegal to induct anybody into the armed forces who had an IQ of less than 83. That’s an unbelievably important thing to know because that’s about 10 percent of the population. You’ve got to understand what this means. It means that a very large organization that’s desperately hungry for manpower, especially under circumstances of extreme crisis, is unwilling to accept 10 percent of the population because they have determined — after 100 years of doing absolutely everything they possibly could to the contrary — that there isn’t a single thing that they can train someone like that to do that’s not counterproductive. ... If the armed forces is approximately as complex as general society is  —  which I think is a reasonable supposition —  it means that 10 percent of the population cannot find meaningful, productive, and engaging work in a modern society. ... That’s a huge problem. That’s a huge underclass problem.