SYNDICATED COLUMN: You Know Your Country Sucks When You Look Wistfully Back at Stalin

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You can tell a lot about the state of a country by comparing the state of its public and private infrastructure.

Take a look, if you can sneak past the gated community guard shack and peek through the privets without getting tackled by a rented goon, at the homes of the wealthy. Note the manicured lawns of the one percenters, fertilized the months recommended by experts depending on climactic zone, painstakingly controlled for weeds, irrigation calibrated by volume, on timers. Check out the garden: lines of shrubs that run a hundred bucks each, red-dyed mulch hiding the dirty brown dirt and tamping down unwanted dandelions before they get a chance to sprout. The driveway is flat, smooth, free of cracks. Stucco walls, if you live out West, are similarly crack-free; if you’re east of the Mississippi, bricks are framed by perfect pointing. Every detail, from the brass numbers on the mailbox to the baseboards to the perfect absence of cobwebs in high ceiling corners, reflects thorough, routine, frequent maintenance and repairs by a retinue of professional service providers.

Tasteful. New. Kept up.

Bear in mind: all this perfectly-maintained stuff houses a single family. At most, we’re talking two parents, four kids and a nanny or two. Certainly fewer than 10 people.

Now look at our public infrastructure.

Drive on a public highway in any major city: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. It’s a disaster. Potholes so big you worry about breaking an axle. (And you should. In New York State, for example, a recent study estimated that bad roads and bridges cost motorists $20.3 billion in repairs annually.) Cracked concrete and asphalt everywhere. Missing guardrails, stolen signs, and everywhere you turn, garbage. Graffiti and vandalism take a toll but mostly it’s all just old. Old, rusted, worn out, years of “deferred maintenance” — i.e., none at all. Yeah, people throw crap out their car windows — but municipal governments don’t clean it up for days, weeks months at a time.

Connecting two of NYC’s biggest boroughs, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is used daily by 160,000 vehicles. It is hideous. It is narrow. It is literally falling apart. Constantly. “With its multitude of trucks and dangerous on-ramps, the BQE is a den of congestion at virtually all hours of the day,” The New York Times reported in 2012. “But one factor has condemned this antiquated 16.8-mile stretch of highway to a place of longstanding infamy in the New York metropolitan area, if not all of urban America: construction that never seems to end. As Gerry Michalowski, a truck driver who has traveled the BQE since 1978, put it, ‘It was under construction then, and it’s still under construction now.’”

Think again about that house I described at the beginning of this column.

It’s used by half a dozen people a year.

The BQE is used by 58 million vehicles a year.

If you don’t think there’s something wrong with this, if you defend the “right” of the wealthy to aggregate more and more until the point when they own everything including our bodies and souls, consider this: rich people have to drive on those roads too. By definition, 580,000 of those BQE users are one percenters.

America isn’t broke, but most Americans are. The reason is simple: too few people have too much of our national wealth. The pauperizing of our common property — the deliberate starving of public funding for roads, bridges, parks, schools, public hospitals, even hospitals charged with caring for veterans of America’s oil wars — reflects the economic and political system’s ass-backward priorities. It’s immoral. Because any society that spends more resources to maintain and upgrade private homes than public works is crazy stupid.

And it hurts the economy.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the United States needs to spend $3.6 trillion over the next six years to replace and repair the nation’s decaying dams, upgrade its parks and outdated schools, rusting water mains, and our crumbling airports, train and bus terminals, roads and bridges — many of which have deteriorated to Third World standards. (Although, to be fair to the Third World, I’ve seen U.S.-funded roads in Afghanistan in better shape than some in L.A.) The ASCE gives the U.S. a D+ on infrastructure.

The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 25th in the world in infrastructure, behind Oman, Saudi Arabia and Barbados.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Josef Stalin, of all people, showed how infrastructure could be prioritized over private property. The dictator approved every extravagance — and why not? Obama signs off on every luxury the military can dream up.

Determined that his new Moscow Metro be a “palace of the people” for the Soviet capital’s subway commuters, Stalin ordered that no expense be spared to create a system that was not only fast and efficient, but beautiful. “In stark contrast to the gray city above,” The Times wrote as late as 1988, “the bustling, graffiti-less Metro is a subterranean sanctuary adorned with crystal chandeliers, marble floors and skillfully crafted mosaics and frescoes fit for a czar’s palace.” With good reason: first Stalin had chandeliers ripped out of the czar’s old palaces and moved underground; for future stations he had even more stunning ones designed from scratch using radically innovative techniques.

The Moscow Metro remains a showcase of what socialism could do at its best: prioritize the people and thus improve their daily lives.

Then there’s us.

Earlier this week President “Obama appeared at the I-495 bridge over the Christina River in Wilmington, Del., a span that has been closed since June, when engineers discovered that four of its columns were leaning to one side. That has created a traffic nightmare for the 90,000 vehicles that travel the major East Coast highway every day.”

The President went to Delaware to “announce new initiatives to encourage private-sector investment in the nation’s infrastructure, including the creation of a ‘one-stop shop’ at the Department of Transportation to forge partnerships between state and local governments, and public and private developers and investors.” In other words: the usual too little, too late, and even that probably won’t happen.

You know you’re in trouble when you look up to Stalin.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: In Need of Weed

Why Leave Home?

 

“It’s the balloon theory,” Jeff Raber, president of a cannabis testing lab in Pasadena, tells The Times‘ David Pierson about an unintended effect of Proposition D, which prompted a crackdown by local authorities on storefront marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. Hundreds of the stores have closed. “They think taking down all the dispensaries will make it go away. But it’s not going away. It’s going to morph into something else.”

“Something else” turns out to be dial-a-bud services: pot delivered direct to your door. “Once a small, word-of-mouth phenomenon, mobile marijuana businesses now number in the hundreds across Southern California. Nationwide, pot delivery services have nearly tripled in three years, from 877 to 2,617, according to Weedmaps, a Yelp-like online directory for pot businesses,” Pierson writes. Can it be long before Amazon offers to mellow out your evening by dispatching Cambodian Red via drone?

Services that offer the convenience of marijuana by phone (or text or email) aren’t legal. For the time being, however, the fuzz is laying off. Pierson explains the tacit modus vivendi:

“California cities have mostly allowed the services to operate freely. State medical marijuana laws don’t mention delivery services, which, like dispensaries, require patients to join as members of a collective. A few cities, including Riverside, have banned marijuana delivery. The L.A. city attorney’s office said mobile businesses are prohibited under Proposition D, but it has yet to prosecute any.”

If you know potheads — and I do — you might share my two-fold reaction. On the one hand, I don’t see the harm. As long as the delivery people aren’t using the product, who cares? On the other, I can’t help think that this is yet another way that capitalism is conspiring to turn Americans into the laziest and most indolent people on earth.

Before legalization, scoring pot required some effort. You often had to get off your butt and drive somewhere — perhaps to an unpleasant neighborhood — to obtain party favors, as they call them on Craigslist. You might spend the night, or the week, in a stoned stupor. Beforehand, however, you benefited an hour or two of physical effort and socio-cultural eye-opening.

The dispensaries dispensed with the exotic visits to strange and unusual sectors. Still, there was the separation of buttock from seat cushion.

Now that’s gone.

Stoners can order “packets of marijuana buds, gummies, hard candies and a fat joint” from their smartphones. If your couch is near a window, you don’t even have to get up.

Ever.

Like the vomitoria where overstuffed wealthy Romans regurgitated meals of titmice and wrens, and the cautionary easy chair-toilet combo in “Idiocracy,” pot to your door is probably not a signifier of a society in ascendance.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Those Kids Crossing the Border from Mexico Wouldn’t Be There if Obama Hadn’t Supported a Coup the Media Doesn’t Talk About

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If you’re reading this, you probably follow the news. So you’ve probably heard of the latest iteration of the “crisis at the border”: tens of thousands of children, many of them unaccompanied by an adult, crossing the desert from Mexico into the United States, where they surrender to the Border Patrol in hope of being allowed to remain here permanently. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention and hearing system has been overwhelmed by the surge of children and, in some cases, their parents. The Obama Administration has asked Congress to approve new funding to speed up processing and deportations of these illegal immigrants.

Even if you’ve followed this story closely, you probably haven’t heard the depressing backstory — the reason so many Central Americans are sending their children on a dangerous thousand-mile journey up the spine of Mexico, where they ride atop freight trains, endure shakedowns by corrupt police and face rapists, bandits and other predators. (For a sense of what it’s like, check out the excellent 2009 film “Sin Nombre.”)

NPR and other mainstream news outlets are parroting the White House, which blames unscrupulous “coyotes” (human smugglers) for “lying to parents, telling them that if they put their kids in the hands of traffickers and get to the United States that they will be able to stay.” True: the coyotes are saying that in order to gin up business. Also true: U.S. law has changed, and many of these kids have a strong legal case for asylum. Unfortunately, U.S. officials are ignoring the law.

The sad truth is that this “crisis at the border” is yet another example of “blowback.”

Blowback is an unintended negative consequence of U.S. political, military and/or economic intervention overseas — when something we did in the past comes back to bite us in the ass. 9/11 is the classic example; arming and funding radical Islamists in the Middle East and South Asia who were less grateful for our help than angry at the U.S.’ simultaneous backing for oppressive governments (The House of Saud, Saddam, Assad, etc.) in the region.

More recent cases include U.S. support for Islamist insurgents in Libya and Syria, which destabilized both countries and led to the murders of U.S. consular officials in Benghazi, and the rise of ISIS, the guerilla army that imperils the U.S.-backed Maliki regime in Baghdad, respectively.

Confusing the issue for casual American news consumers is that the current border crisis doesn’t involve the usual Mexicans traveling north in search of work. Instead, we’re talking about people from Central American nations devastated by a century of American colonialism and imperialism, much of that intervention surprisingly recent. Central American refugees are merely transiting through Mexico.

“The unaccompanied children crossing the border into the United States are leaving behind mainly three Central American countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The first two are among the world’s most violent and all three have deep poverty, according to a Pew Research report based on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) information,” reports NBC News. “El Salvador ranked second in terms of homicides in Latin America in 2011, and it is still high on the list. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America. Thirty percent of Hondurans, 17 percent of Salvadorans and 26 percent of Guatemalans live on less than $2 a day.”

The fact that Honduras is the biggest source of the exodus jumped out at me. That’s because, in 2009, the United States government — under President Obama — tacitly supported a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. “Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades,” The Guardian noted at the time. “During the 1980s, the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua.”

Honduras wasn’t paradise under President Manuel Zelaya. Since the coup, however, the country has entered a downward death spiral of drug-related bloodshed and political revenge killings that crashed the economy, brought an end to law, order and civil society, and now has some analysts calling it a “failed state” along the lines of Somalia and Afghanistan during the 1990s.

“Zelaya’s overthrow created a vacuum in security in which military and police were now focused more on political protest, and also led to a freeze in international aid that markedly worsened socio-economic conditions,” Mark Ungar, professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, told The International Business Times. “The 2009 coup, asserts [Tulane] professor Aaron Schneider, gave the Honduran military more political and economic leverage, at the same time as the state and political elites lost their legitimacy, resources and the capacity to govern large parts of the country.”

El Salvador and Guatemala, also narcostates devastated by decades of U.S. support for oppressive, corrupt right-wing dictatorships, are suffering similar conditions.

Talk about brass! The United States does it everything it can to screw up Central America — and then acts surprised when desperate people show up at its front gate trying to escape the (U.S.-caused) carnage. Letting the kids stay — along with their families — is less than the least we could do.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

 

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: The Murrieta Blockade

Slippry Slope

 

Hands down, the most asked question asked of political cartoonists is: where do you get your ideas?

To which my first reply is usually some variant of “if you have trouble coming up with complaints about politicians or politics, this probably isn’t the right job for you.” Coming up with ideas, or at least topics, has never been an issue for me or any other professional cartoonist I know.

Like other artists, editorial cartoonists use their outlet to work out their issues in public. Most people get annoyed at the president and other political types. The difference between other people and we cartoonists is that, rather than random grousing over beers, we labor under the illusion that we can actually change things (yes, by drawing funny pictures…so we’re delusional. Whatever.).

Sometimes our cartoons reflect our visceral personal reactions to a news story. This week’s cartoon is an example.

When I first heard news accounts of people in Murrieta, California gathering to block federal government buses transporting women and children detained for entering the United States illegally from entering the town, I assumed the protesters were advocates for the immigrants — well-meaning liberals protesting the shabby treatment, such as being held in prisons for up to two years while awaiting deportation hearings, in inhumane conditions and often without adequate legal representation, suffered by people fleeing economic hardship and rampant crime in Central America and elsewhere.

Upon further investigation, however, I learned that the protesters were actually on the opposite side: right-the feds were cruel to what are, by any sane account, refugees from economic and political violence, but rather that they weren’t aggressive enough in enforcing border controls.

As a leftie, I am unusual. I agree that the border has been left open intentionally, and that it ought to be secured. You can’t call yourself a nation-state without controlling who comes and goes; to the contrary, strong border control is one of the defining features of a functioning nation-state. Also, it’s nonsense to complain that sealing the Mexico-U.S. frontier isn’t feasible. The former Soviet Union had a southern border many times longer than that to control, both to keep citizens in and to keep insurgents from places like Afghanistan out, and possessed fewer resources than the U.S. — yet it successfully managed to keep things under wraps.

I favor a wall, a strong border. But it will never happen. Republicans like the border open because their corporate backers like the depressing effect illegal immigration has upon wages; Democrats know that the legally-born children of today’s illegal immigrants are the Democratic voters of tomorrow. Both parties are in cahoots on this issue.

In the meantime, I can’t view the human traffic across the border, originating in some cases from countries destabilized by American intervention, as anything less than people who need and deserve our help. By all means, complain about the perfidy of a federal government that claims the right to invade sovereign nations on the other side of the world yet pretends not to be able to control who comes and goes from Mexico to California. But please don’t pick on the women and children — and the adult men — who are merely doing what comes naturally: trying to survive.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: At Some Point, Progressives Need to Grow a Pair and Stop Having Anything To Do With the Democratic Party

 

At a certain point, if you have any relationship with dignity, you’re supposed to get sick of being used and abused. Speaking of which: liberal Democrats.

Democratic politicians act like right-wingers. Liberals vote for them anyway.

The Democratic Party espouses right-wing policies. Self-described progressives give them cash.

Comedian Bill Maher gave them a million cash dollars — yet Democrats don’t agree with him on anything. Why? Because he hates Republicans even more.

Why didn’t Maher save his money? Or better yet, fund a group or a writer or an artist who promotes ideas he actually agrees with? Because he, like tens of millions of other liberals, are stuck in the two-party trap.

The relationship between liberals and Democrats is dysfunctional and enabling, abused pathetics sucking up to cruel abusers. Progressives like Maher are like a kid with two rotten parents. The dad drinks and hits him; the mom drinks less and hits him less. The best call is to run away from home — instead, most children in that situation will draw closer to their mothers.

Voting-age progressives, on the other hand, are adults. When will they kick the Democratic Party to the curb, as Ricki Lake used to say?

Probably not in time for 2016. But they ought to.

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to see that the next presidential election promises nothing for liberals but more of the same: dismay, disappointment and disgust — in no small part with themselves.

Hillary Clinton, a conservative warmonger ideologically indistinguishable from Dwight Eisenhower, will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee. But she isn’t really a Democrat. Traditionally, Democrats were pro-worker; she and her husband pushed through NAFTA, GATT, the WTO and a slew of free-trade scams that have destroyed American jobs and depressed salaries. Democrats cared about the poor; Hillary has never so much as suggested a substantial anti-poverty initiative. Democrats aren’t supposed to invade sovereign countries for the hell of it; Clinton repeatedly pushed WMD lies, voted to invade Iraq and still hasn’t apologized for the two million Iraqis whose deaths for which she shares responsity. Democrats want single-payer healthcare; instead, she created the template for Obamacare, which keeps rates high to protect insurance company profits.

Yet in today’s “Democratic” Party, Hillary is “inevitable.”

Yes, the highly resuméed, slightly accomplished ex-senator could face a challenge from the left. But not a real one. Even if party bosses allow an actual primary process (they did not in 2012), any primary challenge will be symbolic and impotent (hello Bernie Sanders), poorly funded and sad, raising the faded, tattered flag of liberalism in a quixotic bid to coat Hill’s coronation with a veneer of small-d democratic legitimacy.

If you’re a leftie, the Democratic establishment doesn’t care about your opinion. They certainly don’t want your input. What they want is your vote — in exchange for exactly nothing in return. They’re political parasites, draining the enthusiasm and idealism of progressives, simultaneously neutering and exploiting mainline libs.

Like a tick, mainline “centrist” (i.e. conservative) Democrats will suck you dry. First they misdirect your hope for real change. Then they extract your vote. By the time you realize you’ve been chomped, the buggers drop off, bloated on stolen power and wealth.

You’re left with drained political energy.

During the initial months following the election, you get angrier. You watch con artists like Obama take office, appoint right-wingers to the cabinet and ignore America’s victims — the poor at home, the bombed overseas. Off goes the president — your president, since you voted for him! — golfing and shooting hoops and vacaying on the Vineyard while millions lose their homes to illegal foreclosures, poverty soars, the military gins up new wars and expands old ones, Gitmo stays open and killer drone planes fill the skies. Eventually, of course, you get over it. You recover.

Then, two to four years later, the parasitical Dems are back to suck out whatever idealism you’ve managed to regenerate.

Progressive Democratic voters are understandably unenthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. After enduring her conservative Southern Democratic husband (major accomplishments: bombing Bosnia, ignoring Rwanda, NAFTA, trashing welfare) and Obama (major accomplishments: drones, Libya, Syria, Iraq again), they know what’s coming: more of the same. Because they’re not willing to ditch the Democratic Party, however, they’re trapped in a state of cognitive dissonance, unable to act in order to avoid certain disaster.

Thus progressives are resorting to ridiculously transparent non-tactics. For example: “deploy[ing] the spectral presence of [Elizabeth] Warren to extract as many [liberal] concessions as possible.”

“It’s not a crazy strategy,” libbies are told. “The mere thought of Warren seems to rattle the Clintons, who are haunted by the debacle of 2008.” Actually, it is crazy. Because the Clintons watch the news — and Warren ain’t running.

Noam Scheiber recently wrote a New Republic piece titled “How Hillary Won Over the Skeptical Left,” in which he argues…well, read the title. (Note: by “left,” Scheiber doesn’t mean left. He means centrist Obama supporters, who are slightly to the left of Hill.)

“It’s not that liberals don’t perceive some ideological distance between themselves and Hillary Clinton, at least as they become more informed,” writes Scheiber. Hillary became First Lady in 1993. What is there left to learn? “Nor is it that they recognize this gap and simply don’t care about it. It’s that, after the somewhat disillusioning experience of the Obama years, many actually consider this gap an advantage for Clinton.” In other words: we’re out to beat Republicans, not help poor people.

I’m quoting the following section from Scheiber’s piece at length because it supports my contention that, at this early stage, it is perfectly obvious that Hillary Clinton will screw over progressives. Not only is it evident that she will break their hearts, it is clear how she will go about it.

So let’s say Democrats’ faith in Clinton is rewarded and she wins the presidency. Here is how the 2016 transition is likely to play out. Having talked about inequality during the primaries, and maybe even the general election, she will feel pressure to appoint economists who know something about the issue. She will pluck a few advisers from the reserve army of liberals at think tanks like the Center for American Progress (home to many former Clinton White House aides over the years), the Economic Policy Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But as the transition goes on, liberals will notice a disconcerting shift. They will watch most of the senior posts in her Treasury Department go to alumni of Wall Street. They will see her fill out the top echelons of financial regulators—the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency—with banking-industry lawyers. They will even notice bankers turning up in agencies with little role in finance, like the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative. Though any one appointment may be justified—the Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance should probably have a finance background, for example—the larger mass of Wall Street transplants will create a stubborn level of groupthink. Their skepticism toward policies like a financial transactions tax, aggressive prosecution of financial-market crime, and breaking up the megabanks will ensure they never happen.

Don’t come back in 2017 and say you were surprised.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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I’m Doing a Book Signing in Washington DC on September 30th

20140625-101528-36928223.jpgI will be signing my new book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” on Tuesday, September 30, 2014, at 6:30 PM at KramerBooks, 1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036.

I am very excited about this, not least because they serve beer. And also because they are the best bookstore in DC, and I’ve never appeared there before.

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