Billionaires Fund Human Intelligence

Billionaires Fund Human Intelligence

AI technology has spread into every nook and cranny of digital life with alarming speed. Now Apple has just announced they’re getting in on the game. So much of it feels like gilding the lily, adding unnecessary bloat to things that worked well enough already. I’m not the first to make this comparison, but AI-assisted software reminds me of Clippy, the famously annoying animated paperclip from Microsoft Word who constantly offered unwanted help. And the models are being trained on the stolen work of artists and writers who are already struggling to find new ways of earning a living. While I’m sure there are some narrower areas where AI is useful, much of it seems like Silicon Valley cloaking self-interest in the language of altruism. 

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The Sorensen Monologues

Shell Game

I had to simplify the story of Red Lobster’s bankruptcy a bit for the cartoon, so for further details I recommend this piece by Gretchen Morgenson. So many headlines refer to the endless shrimp deal because it sounds like something that would drive a company into bankruptcy, and it makes for a funny, clickable story. But those losses were a drop in the bucket compared to the plundering by the private equity firm, Golden Gate Capital. The landlord that they sold the properties to, American Realty Capital Partners, leased the stores back at above-market rates, placing a heavy burden on the restaurant chain. (In 2020, Golden Gate sold Red Lobster off to the seafood company that provided the shrimp, which is another story of self-dealing.) 

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Upside-down Alito

Alito blamed the upside-down flag on his wife, but as others have pointed out, he didn’t apologize or distance himself from the symbol used at a deadly attack on the Capitol just eleven days earlier. Any decent person would at least have said “I’m very sorry this happened. I strongly condemn the false claim that the election was stolen in 2020 as well as the violent insurrection of January 6.” Yet here we are with no mechanism to get rid of him, with Democrats unwilling to overtly call for his ouster and a fascism-normalizing chattering class that would chastise them if they did.

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The Great Regression

Like many Americans, I marvel at the speed with which we went from the historic election of Barack Obama to the brink of fascism. Clearly these events are not unrelated; racial resentment exploded in reaction to Obama’s presidency. But this moment of reactionary politics goes well beyond that historical first and now seems to permeate every aspect of life, anywhere some degree of social progress has been achieved. What we’re seeing is a broad-based backsliding on many fronts, with rights that took decades to achieve — or even hundreds of years — disappearing before our eyes. It’s important to keep in mind that this is largely a top-down movement, driven by billionaires and corporate interests. Plenty of them are lining up behind Trump.

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Growing Hypocrisy

I’ve noticed that some people who seem fine with rampant development — and in some cases have profited mightily from it — suddenly become very concerned about growth when the need to build affordable housing arises in their own neighborhood. I do think that growth without any thought to the kind of dense development being created can also be a disaster. Are the new buildings ugly and so cheaply constructed that residents can hear everything their neighbors do through the walls? Are we allowing vehicle size to increase enormously at the same time we are trying to put people in ever denser spaces where they walk and bike? Are we regulating vehicle noise (and leaf blowers!) so people can live and sleep in these denser spaces? Are we keeping some nature? It seems to me that we need to do a number of things differently if we are to create livable cities that accommodate more people.

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Where’s the Crisis?

Only a few weeks ago, the world was aghast at Israel’s killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in three separate vehicles, and an investigation revealed the IDF’s AI targeting system that tolerated enormous numbers of civilian casualties. It’s no mystery why students are protesting. While many politicians and journalists vilified the protesters and openly discussed denying them future employment, displaced Gazans in Rafah thanked them with signs and spray paint graffiti on the sides of their tents. One such message read “Thank you, students in solidarity with Gaza. Your message has reached (us).” Yet in American media coverage, the fact that these kids are protesting is treated like the far greater crisis, worse than the actual death and destruction being rained down on real human beings.

Since I finished this cartoon, people occupied a building at Columbia, and pro-Palestinian students at UCLA were violently attacked by counterprotesters — it’s hard to keep up with the news cycle.

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Virtual Spring

I truly don’t understand how anyone accepts the constant wailing of leaf blowers as normal. It’s like sitting on a plane with a screaming baby, except an internal combustion baby. I read a little while ago that Portland, Oregon is phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers starting in 2026, with the goal of “improving public health and quality of life for landscape workers and other residents.” Now THAT’S civilized.

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America’s Most Wanted Librarians

GOP-controlled statehouses have been cranking out reams of preposterous and frightening library legislation. One proposed bill in Louisiana, HB 777, would make it a crime for librarians to use public funds to join the American Librarian Association or attend an ALA conference, punishable with prison time and hard labor for up to two years. I think Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the ALA put it best: “This is not a culture war; it’s a threat to our democracy.”

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If media talked about the donor class the way it talks about college students

Insulting college students is part of a long history of right-wing demonization of academia. Many current pundits, appealing to a lefty-hating donor class, continue this long tradition. It seems like hardly a day goes by without a hand-wringing article about those CRAZY COLLEGE KIDS appearing somewhere in the mainstream press. Obviously there’s been tension over the last year due to the Israel-Gaza conflict, including some ugly incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia that should be condemned. But to take a wider lens, it seems to me that college protesters have mostly been on the right side of history — from the civil rights movement to the Vietnam War to apartheid in South Africa. The draconian crackdown on student protests by university administrators (and the doxxing and bullying we’ve seen from right-leaning donors over this and other issues) has been an appalling attack on the First Amendment. 

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The Dirty Food Dilemma

This Guardian article lists various foods that tend to be high in toxic PFAS, commonly known as “forever chemicals,” which are used to make products stain- and water-resistant. To quote from the report, “Among the main sources of food contamination are tainted water, greaseproof food wrappers, some plastics, pesticides, or farms where PFAS-tainted sewage sludge is spread as fertilizer.” As for microplastics, where to begin? They’re everywhere, from human placentas to the oceans to Mount Everest. 

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What can we do about a Supreme Court packed with corrupt extremists?

To be fair, some Dems have made an effort to expand the court. In 2023, a group of senators and representatives including Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Tina Smith, Hank Johnson, Jerrold Nadler, Cori Bush, and Adam Schiff reintroduced legislation to increase the number of justices to 13. Schiff made the case eloquently:

Schiff, a congressman from California, said: “This is not a conservative court, not in a legal sense. A conservative court would have some respect for precedent. This is instead a political and partisan court with a reactionary social agenda and the only question, Mitch McConnell having packed the court, is will we do anything about it or will we subject an entire generation of Americans to the loss of their rights?

“Dirtier air and dirtier water and dirtier elections? Is that the fate we would have for the next generation? My kids are both in their early 20s and I am not satisfied that they should have to live under a reactionary supreme court for their entire adult lives and I don’t want anyone else’s kids to have to suffer that fate.

If you’re still not convinced about expanding the court, the nonprofit Demos has an excellent explainer, a key takeaway being that concerns about violating norms need to be weighed against the fact that those norms have already been destroyed.

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What Did We Learn From Covid?

These days, a conventional wisdom has settled in that we somehow overreacted to Covid. That our response went too far, and we are now past those silly times. Here’s the lesson to take away: we didn’t do enough. Trump’s response was idiotic and catastrophic (does anyone remember him saying blue state governors “have to treat us well” if they want coronavirus help?). In the last four years, over 1.1 million Americans have died of the illness. Countless lives have been shattered by Long Covid. The immunocompromised and other vulnerable populations are barely an afterthought. We let the virus be politicized by opportunists, and allowed false narratives about governments “controlling” us to dominate our media. The hard choices that were made to prevent even more death and suffering are now, ludicrously, seen as mistakes. 

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Jen Sorensen is a cartoonist for Daily Kos, The Nation, In These Times, Politico and other publications throughout the US. She received the 2023 Berryman Award for Editorial Cartooning from the National Press Foundation, and is a recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. She is also a Pulitzer Finalist.

 

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