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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

O'Reilly: As government fails, technology lifts

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) talks to reporters

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) talks to reporters after a news conference at the Capitol in Albany. (May 15, 2012). Credit: AP

A few months ago, without forethought, I began reading technology blogs at bedtime. It was a departure for me, because I'm not a techie -- -- to me, AC/DC is a band. But somehow, scanning the days' tech news became an ingrained and enjoyable habit.

In my day job, politics, I read newspapers, blogs and opinion pieces from dawn until well past dusk. The tech sites provide a welcome break from the hamster wheel of political argument.

Lately, I've begun turning to tech earlier and earlier in the evening, because American politics has almost become too depressing to follow. The closer I watch it, the more hopeless I feel about the future.

This week was particularly depressing. In Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver demonstrated again that a well-entrenched politician can survive almost any news cycle. Silver was tagged in an ethics report for covering up sexual abuse in the legislature using secret taxpayer hush money -- for the third time.

A flurry of editorials called for his resignation as speaker, which were followed by veritable silence from Democrats and Republicans alike in Albany. By Monday night, the Speaker was safe. By Tuesday, other news had supplanted what had warranted blaring headlines only a few days before.

In Washington, our chief executive has all but checked out, and the prime goal of the legislative branch appears to be sabotaging the other house's agenda. The IRS is being investigated as a political hit squad; the Justice Department is spying on reporters; and the op-eds being lobbed back and forth across the net argue whether these things can properly be labeled scandals.

This is the state of American political discourse in 2013. Meanwhile, federal debt continues to accumulate, like coats of lead paint on a foundering ship.

Contrast that with news out of the tech industry this week:

An American company called Elio Motors is planning to roll out a $6,800 three-wheeled car in about 18 months that will get 84 miles per gallon.

Systems & Materials Research Corporation, another American company, is working on creating a 3-D printer that will synthesize oils and other materials into food. It could end starvation worldwide in a decade.

Hydrofracking is on schedule to make the United States a net-energy exporter in just a few years, despite the efforts of some American politicians. (Al Jazeera says this remarkable development is "re-wiring geopolitics and the world of energy.")

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) are opening up the best academic instruction in the world to billions of potential pupils at ridiculously low costs.

And the Argus II bionic eye system, which will restore sight to people with certain kinds of blindness, was just approved by the FDA. That technology is only just beginning.

Time and again, where government and politics deflate the spirit, the creative genius of the American entrepreneur lifts it up. I had almost forgotten that enduring American truism, until I started reading the tech blogs. They restore in me something the administration in Washington has ironically stripped away: Hope.

Not all government is bad and not all technology is good. But which would you put your money on to save America?

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.