Tuesday, June 30, 2009
It didn't take the tweeters and facebook paparazzi long to throw Michael Jackson under the bus. Here CNN, FoxNews, NBC, ABC, Yahoo, the New York Times, even the LA Times were reporting Michael Jackson had just been taken to the hospital for cardiac arrest, and already the news was spreading like wildfire online that Michael Jackson had died.
Who reported it first? TMZ, your celebrity scoundrel news organization. One can hardly blame the major news outlets for holding back for further confirmation. What's another twenty minutes to get it right? That used to be called responsible journalism.
And maybe TMZ had already verified it through several sources. I don't know. What I do know is that all the people who took that one source and immediately blogged or tweeted or texted it, did so without a thought. They irresponsibly fed the rumor mill without questioning whether the news could be wrong, or what effect that might have on society, not to mention Michael Jackson's family.
Mark Twain once observed that "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes." And it wasn't but hours later that other celebrity deaths were falsely reported (Jeff Goldblum, not Farrah Fawcett) and it became difficult to sort out fact from fiction. What we had in essence was communication ruled by mob. The difference is that today's technology allows the lie to travel all the way around the world, multiplying information about the lie, while the truth gets buried under all the clutter with its shoelaces half-tied.
If information is power, misinformation is misuse of power. And that got me thinking. What if next time its more than a celebrity death? What if next time its about a flu pandemic? Or a terrorist attack or a nuclear bomb? And what if next time the tweets and texts are wrong?
Heck, what if they're wrong this time? What if Michael Jackson isn't dead? What if he's about to launch the greatest career comeback ever? Don't laugh. After all, Michael Jackson has a team of handlers and publicists who know who to manipulate the press. And email, texting, twitter, and facebook have only made it easier. Besides, haven't you heard that Elvis is still alive?
By dying, Michael Jackson has rehabilitated his image. He's no longer referred to as the skin-bleaching pedophile. He's no longer Wacko Jacko, the baby dangler. He's a once-in-a-millennium talent, the innovative dancer and MTV pioneer, the King of Pop. Artists are paying tribute to him everywhere. Even Congress honored him with a moment of silence. Meanwhile, plans for his funeral have been described as secretive and elaborate, while his body has been sent off to a "private lab."
So picture this: Michael Jackson, the greatest showman on earth, launches his new world tour with millions of fans watching this weekend. The show, er, memorial service begins with a white glove sliding off the top of the casket. A group of the living dead struts through the mourners and starts to dance. The music kicks in. Michael Jackson rises from the grave, grabs himself, and moonwalks.
"It's just a thriller, thriller night!"
The crowd, at first stunned, goes wild. They have been played by technology, bamboozled by their faith in the new media. It won't be the last time. Michael Jackson's second act is born, back from the dead. His world tour sells out in minutes. Even PT Barnum would be impressed.
I'm just saying. You can't believe everything you read. Especially online.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Move over, David Blaine. There's a new illusionist in town and in just over 100 days, he has proven to be the greatest in the world. Barack the Magnificent hypnotizes the press. He attempts to levitate banks and automobiles. He divides America by class. And in perhaps his most popular trick, with the aid of willing abettors in the media, Barack the Magnificent continues to conceal his identity as a tax and spend liberal by taxing and spending right before our very eyes!
How does he do it? Sleight of hand mostly. In every speech he uses the word "spend" instead of "invest". By manipulating the language in such Orwellian fashion, spending simply ceases to exist. We are investors now investing in government. Likewise, I didn't spend money on lunch today, but I invested in a cheeseburger. I also invested in a beer. In fact, every time I pay my bills now I am investing!
Barack the Magnificent is also fond of throwing around the term "save" and talking about our future "savings", even though we are borrowing the savings of our children and grandchildren to stimulate the economy. Of course, nothing Obama proposes has been designed to stimulate anything but government growth, which makes stimulus merely another smokescreen for spending. To which a bureaucrat can answer, "Spending? Nope, not here. Nothing but stimulus dollars."
But sometimes language alone fails to do the trick. No worries. Barack the Magnificent can contort himself into a position that shifts blame to his predecessor without shouldering any burden of his own. This position is laughingly referred to as post-partisan by the mainstream press. As we have now heard ad nausea, Barack didn't create these problems, he inherited them. Sort of like we inherited Joe Biden. While it's true that this year's budget deficit is the worst on record, all of the spending was put in place by a Democratic Congress, and yes, now that you mention it, Senator Obama was a voting member.
As for the $411 billion omnibus bill with $8.8 billion in earmarks, it was never put in front of President Bush, because he threatened to veto it. Instead, the Dems waited until they won the election, and President Obama signed it into law in February of this year, along with the $787 billion stimulus bill. That's $1.2 trillion of spending that Big O and the Democrats certainly can't claim they inherited (though claim they do as surely as Nancy Pelosi claims ignorance over waterboarding). And that doesn't even include the TARP money, which Barack Obama approved as a candidate, and since taking office has overseen the release of $400 billion.
Taking a cue from his Hollywood friends who enjoy playing kick-butt defenders of liberty that they could never aspire to in real life, Obama never tires of acting tough when it comes to fiscal responsibility. Nevermind that he is the biggest spender in the history of the United States. Having proposed more spending in his first four months of office than the previous 43 presidents COMBINED, his administration recently attempted the biggest illusion yet when they announced with much fanfare that Barack Obama was a budget cutter and had found $17 billion worth of cuts.
Pardon me if I don't give a standing ovation. While this would be great if it were of any significance, it's not. Barack the Magnificent already donned his cape and tried to sell this illusion when he proposed cutting $100 million from his cabinet's budget. He hoped the public, having mostly been educated in Chicago style public schools, couldn't do math, but it didn't take a NASA scientist to realize this was the same in scope as reducing the size of Madison Square Garden by a single seat. Here's hoping it's Spike Lee's.
Now it's time for an encore and the White House is presenting the same performance, only this time with bigger numbers. While $17 billion sounds like a lot of money, it is a drop in the bucket when the president is asking for a three and a half trillion dollar budget. Or to put that visually: $3,500,000,000,000. That's a lot of zeros. Especially when it has to be borrowed.
If President Obama is so concerned about waste, why not propose a budget that isn't a poster boy for the film "Supersize Me"? And why not eliminate the $8.8 billion in earmarks from the $411 billion omnibus bill, pure pork inserted on behalf of lobbyists. To do so would have reduced that bill's spending by almost two percent. By cutting $17 billion from the more expensive 2010 budget instead, he will only reduce spending by 0.46%. That's in essence a 70% less effective decision.
The Democratic talking point on this is that 100 million here and 100 million there eventually adds up. True enough. But when entitlement programs are growing exponentially, what really adds up is trillions upon trillions of dollars of debt. Soon the biggest government expenditure will be paying interest on all this borrowed money. And even under the Obama administration's rosiest scenarios, there is no end in sight to the deficits.
But it gets worse. None of these cuts will actually be enacted by Congress, because Obama has already given the green light for a set level of discretionary spending. In other words, if Congress were to take the president's recommendations and cut a few of these programs, the money would just be transferred to other programs, no doubt ones being lobbied the hardest by liberal special interest groups such as unions, trial lawyers, and ACORN. So the actual savings are... drumroll please... zero dollars. As in nada. Ta-da!
It should also be mentioned that President Bush proposed $18 billion in similar cuts last year. But being President Bush, the proposals were met by the mainstream media and tingly-leg types with all the enthusiasm of another Bret Favre comeback. Of course the Democrats rejected the cuts, proving they are the real party of no, at least when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
Now allow me to perform my own trick and think like a progressive. This is very dangerous, kids. I repeat, do not try this at home. Let's put Obama's bogus budget cuts into terms the left can understand. Imagine 100,000 troops stationed in Iraq. An evil, war-mongering, Republican president decides to increase that level to 364,000 troops. But the day before he sends the extra troops, he announces that he will bring home 17,000. Now imagine the White House and GOP spinning it as a troop withdrawal! If I was a peace-loving hippie, I wouldn't be praising the president for his non-escalation and diplomatic efforts. I would be infuriated. Wouldn't you?!
We have a saying in Texas. Fool me once, shame on... you? Fool me twice, shame on, er.... the point is you can't fool somebody twice. Barack the Magnificent has already fooled us twice and now he's working on the ultimate routine. By creating record deficits and running up debt until tax increases are inevitable, he could turn this recession into a depression.
Want to see wealth disappear? Poof. And that's no illusion.
Friday, June 26, 2009
(Note: A version of this was originally published on Feb. 2, 2009)
Our country is having an Oprah moment. How else to describe the inauguration coverage of Barack Obama? Watching celebrities flock to Washington, D.C. to frolic in his presence, some even daring to skip Sundance, the four day festival of coverage felt like a made-for-TV event that only Hollywood could produce. And in case you doubted it, there was Oprah Winfrey hosting her show from the nation's capital and toasting Barack Obama in private dinners at the White House. "The light of the new age is here", she professed. Then she cried, as so many other celebrities and debutantes did. To see how much the pampered elites of high society approved, one need only count the private jets parked on D.C. runways. And if the ruling class approves it must be good for the commoners, right?
We can thank the queen of daytime TV for creating the atmosphere that got our new king elected and has half the nation walking around in a stupor that even embarrasses born-again Christians who pass out at Faith Rally weekends. Oprah helped launch Obama's presidential campaign on her show. She endorsed him publicly. She sold him to every American household the same way she peddled her dime store psychology and influential book club. Now one wonders, given her track record, if Obama's story will also turn out to be a fake. Or maybe just not up to the happy, messianic ending.
Was Obama's big day historic? Yes. Should we take pride regardless of political affiliation knowing how well our democracy works, that the son of an immigrant can rise to such great heights in just one generation? Of course we should. Whether you voted for him or not, we can all be proud as Americans of how far our country has come since MLK's "I have a dream" speech. But shouldn't an election be about more than feelings? What happens when all the gooey emotions go away and President Obama has to make the first executive decisions of his lifetime?
We're already finding out. In his first week of office, President Obama closed Guantanamo Bay without closing it. Change! But not really. Or at least not for a year or until we can come up with a plan. President Bush was criticized for going to war in Iraq without an exit plan, but our newly elected executive will receive no such nitpicking from the spellbound media.
How appropriate that President Obama, whose election has been one feel-good, symbolic moment after another, picked as his first order of business a feel-good, symbolic gesture. Closing a prison is in and of itself insignificant. It's what you do with the prisoners that has consequences. Obama hasn't made a decision on the latter, so why announce the former? For those who thought Bill Clinton was unusually adept at speaking out of both sides of his mouth, we are now beginning to realize how much he underachieved. Barack Hussein Obama is after all, a Kenyan from Kansas, an antiwar war president, a post-partisan partisan, a free-trade protectionist, a non-smoking smoker, and a non-Muslim with a Muslim name.
If the light of the new age is here, it's certainly not the beacon of freedom and liberty that Ronald Reagan talked about. No, this is an age marked by moral relativism. Better to drive a hybrid than condemn terror. To prove as much, President Obama gave his first formal interview to Arab TV apologizing to jihadists and dictators for America's recent actions in the Middle East. If apologizing for intolerance to countries that prohibit religious freedom, kill homosexuals, and jail women for being raped is progress, the new administration's idea of diplomacy is even more naive than I imagined.
Do you feel good, America? Let's hope so. If you're going to elect someone with this little experience and humility, better hope the euphoria lasts. The pressure is off the Arab world, it seems, to move in the direction of human rights and equality. Whew, Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad must be relieved. Meanwhile here at home, we are now encouraged to soften our stance on terror out of decency, to love every jihadist as much as an unborn child - wait, scratch that. Love every terrorist more than an unborn child, because President Obama also signed an executive order sending our tax dollars to fund foreign "family planning" groups that promote and/or perform abortions. Hope! Unless you're an unborn Chinese girl about to be eliminated.
The dime store psychology, self-esteem crowd has determined Obama's greatness based simply on his puffery and cool demeanor. If they have given up on the grand idea of American exceptionalism, they certainly believe in Obama exceptionalism. They tirelessly try to convince us that catchphrase speeches will lead to great achievements, that only wonderful things can come from having such a high opinion of oneself. But if that were the case, Paris Hilton would have already won an Oscar.
The meteoric rise of Barack Obama is certainly worthy of praise, but this is full-fledged celebrity worship. The reaction our new Commander in Chief garners from Oprah and pals is no different than the one that greets Sonjaya on American Idol by shrieking 12 year old girls. Reading the mainstream media is starting to feel like reading Tiger Beat. Does free speech even matter when newspapers and magazines are more obsessed with Obama's pectorals than his policies? Sure, they'll cover his talking points, but they don't want to dissect the details. Some dictators don't have it this good.
No wonder when teenagers are asked to list their goals in life, more than half say "being famous." To quote Family Feud, it's the number one answer on the board, easily outpacing "being rich" or "being good at something." And in today's climate of reality TV, youtube, twitter, and myspace, actually achieving something of significance to gain such fame no longer matters. To ask how a celebrity politician like Obama won an overwhelming majority of the millennial generation's vote despite any noteworthy legislative accomplishments is redundant. He is our American Idol President.
While many try to paint this as a post-partisan era of new politics, it's important to realize that celebrity worship can never be partisan in the first place. Whatever Obama wants, they want. Which is why when surveyed, almost half of the people who voted for Obama couldn't correctly identify the Democrats as the party that controlled Congress for the past two years. There's even a video making the rounds that shows Obama supporters praising him when his policy positions are presented as the exact opposite. I'd laugh if I didn't find the whole thing disturbing and dangerous.
Fortunately (or unfortunately for Obama) such an image of hipness is unsustainable. Executive decisions have consequences. Although it may take years, eventually people come out of the haze. Maybe even journalists. I know many people have looked back at what was once popular only to realize that some of their favorite bands and TV shows were really quite terrible. And how did Dances with Wolves ever win best picture? Over Goodfellas?!
The question remains with Obama, when the honeymoon's over and the money's all been spent, will there be anything to show for it? Will the country be safe? And if the answer is no, will those who held him to such unfair heights be able to turn off the TV, ignore Oprah, and hold him accountable?