Futurist science fiction author Lui Cixin predicts that artificial intelligence will put 90% or more of Americans out of work. Will politicians plan ahead for the coming end of work as we know it? Ha!
When Did Post-Disaster News Conferences Become Long-Winded Oscar Acceptance Speeches?
This is for you older readers: when did news conferences become long-winded acceptance speeches?
I’m too young to remember for sure, but There must have been a time when, after a train derailment or a tornado or a flood or a race riot or whatever, public officials stepped up to the microphones to deliver a status update (“as soon as we learn more, we’ll let you know”), and perhaps some advice to the public (“avoid downed live wires, especially the ones that are sparking, like in that movie The Ice Storm”), answered reporters’ questions and left the stage.
Today’s news conferences are a dreary, undignified mélange of pro forma acknowledgements and sentimental pabulum.
A news conference following this week’s fatal high-speed derailment of an Amtrak passenger train in Philadelphia was a typical example:
SENATOR PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): The scene is a horrific and heartbreaking scene. My prayers go out to the people who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy, to those who were injured, to all of their families. I also want to take a moment to express my appreciation to the first responders, the men and women of this city’s police and fire forces who have responded with such professionalism. Mayor Nutter deserves a great deal of credit. He and his team have pulled together a very, very effective and well-coordinated effort that’s included the federal as well as the city officials. So we appreciate what they’re doing. And we wanted to express both our condolences and our appreciation for that effort. As Senator Casey pointed out, a big part of my being here and his being here is to make sure that Mayor Nutter and city of Philadelphia knows if there’s anything the federal government can be doing to help, we want to make sure it does that.
MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D-Phila.): Senators Casey and Senator Toomey, thank you both. The response at the federal level has been tremendous here. With that in mind, let me also report to you that shortly after the earlier press conference today, I had the honor and opportunity to speak directly with President Barack Obama, who called, wanting to get on-the-ground information and facts. The president is very concerned about what has happened here, expressed his condolences as well, but also pledged the full support of the federal government and all the agencies under the executive branch of the government. The president feels very saddened by what has happened, but he was tremendously supportive and encouraging of our efforts here on the ground. For that, I want to say thank you to President Barack Obama for all of his leadership and support in these difficult and tragic times. With that, let me open to some questions for anything that we can answer.
I’m only picking on Philly because it’s the most recent example. I could quote the same crap, virtually verbatim, from press briefings following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, you name it. Our prayers always “go out to the victims and their families.” We always praise the sainted “first responders.” If you’re a federal politician, you thank the local hack; if you’re a local politician, you suck up to the leech who just parachuted in from the Beltway.
In pro forma post-bad-things-happening briefings, natural and manmade disasters are heartbreaking, devastating, tragic, incomprehensible, terrible and/or horrific. Crimes of mass violence, especially those committed by terrorists, are always brutal and vicious, cowardly acts. Killing children is always unthinkable.
Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, shortly after the Aurora shootings, after the 2012 Newtown elementary school shootings: “The heart of every person in Colorado goes out to every person in Connecticut.”
Secy. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2003, after a helicopter carrying U.S. soldiers crashed in U.S.-occupied Iraq: “My heart and prayers go out to the families and the loved ones of those people.”
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014, commenting on the first death from Ebola on U.S. soil: “Our hearts go out to all the families who have been affected and our prayers are with them.”
House Speaker John Boehner after tornadoes killed people in 2014: “Our hearts and our prayers go out to those in Oklahoma who have been victimized by this storm.”
I could fill a book.
It is possible that politicians like President Obama, seen biting his lip in apparent sadness while announcing that one of his drones accidentally killed an American hostage held by Al Qaeda in Pakistan earlier this year, really meant it when he offered his “grief and condolences” to the poor dead SOB’s family…even though he was yukking it up with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots about “deflategate” a few hours later.
It is possible. But it isn’t likely.
Fair or not cut-and-paste expressions of grief (“our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families”) come off as ridiculously insincere — just as fake and phony as those Academy Award-style “I’d like to thank my agent, my children, and my dog” thank-yous while we’re waiting to find out if and when the trains will begin running again.
But you know what’s worse than listening to our lame political class pretend to care? Their low regard for our intelligence, as evidenced by their obvious assumptions that they don’t have to try harder, and that we believe them.
We may be dumb. But we ain’t stupid.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
The motto of California’s State Senate had might as well be changed to homines qui pravis — men behaving badly.
As Patrick McGreevy reports in The Times, three members are currently under suspension due to scandals.
Roderick Wright of Los Angeles County was convicted of voter fraud and perjury for lying about living in his district. Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco have been indicted by the feds, accused of influence peddling. Yee, who presented himself as a staunch proponent of gun control, has also been formally accused of offering to connect an undercover FBI agent posing as someone in the market for automatic weapons and RPGs with an international weapons dealer.
Smarting from these blows to their reputation, Senate leaders put their heads together and decided to recruit potential candidates from only the most morally upright, self-sacrificing Californians.
Actually, they really did come up with a solution: a proposed list of 12 “Standards of Conduct” members would be expected to abide by.
McGreevy calls the standards “fairly common-sense.” Which is true. They’re so common-sense as to prompt the question: why do they need them?
Among the highlights:
- “A Senator or officer or employee of the Senate shall not accept outside employment that is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his or her duties.”
- “A Senator shall not use the prestige of his or her office, and an officer or employee of the Senate shall not use the status of his or her position, for material or financial gain or private benefit.”
- “Each Senator and each officer or employee of the Senate has an obligation to be informed and prepared, recognizing all sides of an issue.”
- “Each Senator and each officer or employee of the Senate has an obligation to make proper use of public funds.”
May I suggest Rule 13? “Each Senator shall wear pants, or a skirt, or a pantsuit or other suitable article of clothing as to properly cover his or her private parts when conducting his or her duties in the Senate, with the exception of when nature calls, and then only in a suitable restroom and then with the latch firmly attached so that others may not observe.”
We have finally arrived, it seems, at the stage when it is no longer reasonable to expect behavior that society once considered so standard that it needed neither to be taught nor explained, much less enforced by law. Conflict of interest was always, obviously unethical. Diverting public funds for personal use was always embezzlement, clearly illegal, evidently wrong. Political service was a public trust; while one always had parochial, partisan interests to consider, it was a given that the greater good took ultimate precedence — at least that it should.
You know what would be a better way to improve the ethical standards of state senators than these painfully obvious Standards of Conduct? Subject them to an IQ test. Because if you don’t know this stuff by the time you’re old enough to run for public office, you’re too stupid to serve.
IN WHICH I CALL OUT HIPSTERS AND CELEBRITIES FOR THE RIDICULOUS ARGUMENTS THEY GAVE FOR VOTING FOR OBAMA
Politicians get called to account for their broken promises. So too should their celebrity supporters. When boldface names convince the hoi polloi to punch the chads that put their favorite candidates into positions of power, they must assume responsibility when their pitches and talking points turn out to be low-grade bullshit.
One of the most notable pairings of electoral politics and celebrity of the 2012 presidential campaign was the website/happening “90 Days, 90 Reasons.” Each day during the last three months running up to Election Day, one liberal Democratic actor, writer or musician recruited by Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s literary empire supplied an essay urging us to reelect Obama along with a reason to do so.
Disclosure: Eggers and I were friends during the 1990s, when I was a contributing editor to his Might magazine.
From New York Times esoterica compiler/”Bored to Death” actor John Hodgman to children’s author Lemony Snicket to “Mr. Show” comedian David Cross, the contributors to “90 Days” reads like a who’s-who of Gen X-meets-Millennial NPR-safe middlin’ liberalism. Which is fine — them’s Obama’s people.
What’s a little not fine is that so many of the arguments given in favor of The One are redundant: gay marriage, jobs for veterans, and abortion rights come up over and over. What’s a lot not OK is that so many of these pro-Obama talking points turn out, with a little hindsight (and in many cases none whatsoever), to be lies.
Lies lies. Not in-my-opinion lies.
Reason 24 to give Obama a second term in 2012, according to “The Kite Runner” author Khaled Hosseini, was that “Obama demonstrated prudent and effective leadership in helping bring about the fall of Muammar Gadhafi.” I…wow.
It’s not much in the news these days (gee, I wonder why?), but Libya is pretty much universally regarded as a failed state in the mold of Somalia or Afghanistan during the 1990s. Libya’s government is so weak as to be useless, there’s a civil war going on, and it has basically stopped producing oil. What Bush did to Afghanistan, replacing an oppressive regime with anarchy and lawlessness that was even worse, Obama did to Libya.
Obama doesn’t brag about Libya, and with good reasons that don’t include Benghazi.
Yet here you have Hosseini claiming “President Obama proceeded wisely, in allowing the U.S. to be a key player in a multi-national effort to support the rebels without committing to American air strikes.” Wisely. How does that include U.S. backing of radical Islamists? No airstrikes? Except for the most important one, ordering the airstrike that killed the Libyan leader, who might have met a different fate had he not been stupid enough to dismantle his nuclear weapons program.
Anything Hosseini says about politics should henceforth be regarded as fiction.
Then there’s Win Butler, singer for the band Arcade Fire. “Barack Obama is perhaps the greatest president of modern times at communicating directly with foreign populations,” Butler writes in Reason 86. I love that phrase “foreign populations.” File it next to that British imperialist classic “the natives” and the more contemporary “the locals.”
The thing is, even when Butler wrote that, it was the exact opposite of true. “Global approval of President Barack Obama’s policies has declined significantly since he first took office, while overall confidence in him and attitudes toward the U.S. have slipped modestly as a consequence,” Pew Research’s widely respected Global Attitudes Project, which measures global public opinion, reported in (cough) June 2012, about four months before Butler’s essay appeared. Approval of Obama’s foreign policies plunged between 2009 and 2012: down 15% in Europe, down 19% in Muslim countries, down 30% in China, down 17% in Mexico. No increase anywhere on the planet. Sorry, “foreign populations.”
The fact that the world hates us more under Obama than it did under Bush is not hard-to-come-by info. It was widely and repeatedly reported. If Butler didn’t know, he was a Google search away — as were his editors at McSweeney’s.
Many of the “90 Reasons” are so vague as to be hilarious. “President Obama is steady at the helm,” said ex-comedian/silent senator Al Franken. So was Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic. Shepard Fairey, the plagiarizing poster artist responsible for the 2008 Hope and Change posters, said he was “voting for Barack Obama because I believe evolution is real and possible. I want to see this country move forward, not backward.” “Forward, not backward” was Obama’s infamous soundbyte announcing his amnesty for CIA torturers. We are paying attention to these vacuous celebs, um, why?
Most unforgiveable are those who count on their readers’ ignorance to con them. Democrats worried in 2012 that the Democrats’ progressive base wouldn’t turn up at the polls. Lefties were pissed off that Obama hadn’t fought for traditional Democratic values. So Obama and his supporters tried to recast him as a fighter, a kicker of GOP ass, to counter the wuss prez problem.
Toward this end, several of the celebrity Obama bootlickers posted brazenly misleading essays to “90 Reasons.”
Novelist Mona Simpson claimed that “Barack Obama would reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban.” Would, could, should…but not really. As of July 2012, it was clear that the ban was dead. Hindsight: Obama never pushed for it after he won again. Another writer, Karen Fowler, urged you to support Obama because he “opposes the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision.” Alas, Fowler’s implication — that he’d actually try to reverse it by proposing legislation — was based on exactly nothing.
It would be nice if Simpson, Fowler and the actress Molly Shannon, who wrote the words “President Obama’s actions remind me of the words of the great Roman philosopher, Cicero,” were to keep their political word-farts to themselves forevermore.
John Sayles’ contribution pains me most. I love that man’s movies. But he wrote this sentence, and it means he is politically dead to me: “Obama still has some respect for the truth.” Ahem: “If you like your current healthcare plan, you can keep it.”
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: After the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, California began an ambitious effort to map faults across the state. Over the next two decades, officials published 534 maps of active earthquake faults. New construction was prohibited on top of these fissures because previous quakes showed that buildings could be torn apart during violent shaking. But the mapping campaign has slowed to a crawl â with many dangerous faults still undocumented. Since 1991, only 23 have been drawn. Because of budget cuts, none were completed between 2004 and 2011, according to records reviewed by The Times. State officials said there are still about 300 maps to draw and even more to revise â including some in heavily populated areas of Southern California. That represents about 2,000 miles of faults statewide.
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: Under new primary rules in California, the top two winners in a race go on to the general election, regardless of their party. Now the perverse result is that candidates of party A, which is overwhelmingly popular in their districts, must appeal to party B voters in order to win.
In a little-noticed ruling issued concurrent to the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to lie about having served in the military. Which made me think, (a) who’d want to admit they were in the military if they had been, much less brag about it if they hadn’t, and (b) politicians must be grateful now that their favorite activity–lying–has been deemed worthy of First Amendment protection.
Blame Politicians’ Lies, Not Apathy
I can’t stop thinking about what Obama said about Christina-Taylor Green, the nine-year-old girl shot to death in Tucson.
Christina-Taylor, said the president, saw politics “through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often take for granted.”
Those are disturbing words. But not the way Obama intended.
Obama relies on a deeply flawed assumption: that becoming cynical is an inherent part of growing up.
That’s a lie. As American citizens travel the long road from childhood to adulthood to valued members of the AARP, their political system repeatedly lets them down. Cynicism is taught. Optimism is ruthlessly crushed.
People vote for politicians who break their promises. Disappointed by the limited choices offered by the two major parties, they pick one only to see it repeatedly sell out its purported principles. As year after year slips by they watch the problems they worry about go completely unaddressed, much less solved, by their so-called representatives.
On those rare occasions that “their” government impacts their lives, it does so negatively, with taxes, fines, paperwork, parking tickets. Meanwhile the pols fatten themselves and their cronies at the public trough (before moving on to the even richer private one).
Say you have an absentee parent who drinks up the grocery money and beats you up. To protect yourself you develop a bit of a shell. Who can blame you? When you finally stop talking to the deadbeat SOB, is it fair to call you cynical?
Hardly. You’re merely acknowledging reality. You’d be a fool not to.
In researching this column I found countless articles and studies that try to explain why the United States has one of the lowest voter turnout rates on earth. Almost all suggested ways to get more Americans to the polls. None focused on the supply side of the equation: improving politicians and politics so they become more appealing to the electorate.
Ask not, Mr. President, what Americans can do to become less cynical, but rather ask what you and your pals in D.C. can do to deserve our trust.
It’s interesting to ask why many Americans are registered to vote but rarely cast a ballot. (Usually whether or not a person is registered is the best predictor as to whether or not they actually vote.) A 2006 Pew Research survey found that 42 percent of these individuals were “bored by what goes on in Washington,” 14 percent were “angry at the government,” 32 percent said “issues in D.C. don’t affect me,” and 30 percent said “voting doesn’t change things.”
These people aren’t stupid or lazy. They’re cynical, and rightly so. They think the government is evil, irrelevant, or both. Lords knows politicians give them lots of reasons to hold those beliefs.
Start, for example, with President Obama himself.
In a September 2010 interview with Rolling Stone Obama claimed to have “accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do—and by the way, I’ve got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum.”
These politicians! Even in a line about keeping promises, the dude fudges facts. “Minimum”? You can’t assume a second term when you’re president. Moreover, no one who voted for Obama in 2008 wants to wait until 2016 to see the fulfillment of a 2008 promise.
Anyway, Obama has kept a mere 24 percent of his 2008 promises. That’s according to Politifact—and their assessment is generous.
Totally broken promises—promises Obama didn’t even pretend to try to keep—include the following:
He said he would close Guantánamo concentration camp.
He said he would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
He said he would create a $10 billion foreclosure prevention fund.
He said he would let the Bush tax cuts expire.
He said he would eliminate warrantless wiretaps.
He said he would eliminate extraordinary renditions.
He said he would eliminate torture.
He said he would create a transparent online database related to government ethics and lobbying activities.
He said he would close the revolving door between government and private sector lobbying.
He said he would create a national publicly funded healthcare system.
So many broken promises. No wonder so many optimistic kids turn into hardboiled adults.
Politicians lie and lie and lie. Then, when we notice, they accuse us of being faithless. Us! What about them?
“I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it,” Obama said. “All of us—we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”
No, Mr. Obama. “All of us” don’t have to do jack. It’s not our job to take an interest in politicians. It’s the politicians’ job to take an interest in us.
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL