Studies show that the use of smartphones and tablets exploded at the same time that drug use declined among American teens. Correlation or causation?
This week’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall brought me back, not to warm fuzzies about peace and freedom and Gipper Ron Ron and winning the Cold War, but the reaction of my former BFF Dan (whom I miss for his talent for lightening-quick, wicked-brilliant repostes).
The Berlin Wall has fallen, I informed him. Germany is reunited.
“This,” he replied as usual without missing a beat, “is like the reunion tour recently announced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I didn’t care for any of their previous collaborations, and I’m not looking forward to the next one.”
The former two Germanies haven’t given us another Hitler. Not yet. But Germany 2.0 did revive and realize the Führer’s dream of uniting Europe into a unified trading bloc, with a common currency, big enough to give the United States a run for its devalued money. The new euro was, naturally, pegged to the old Deutsche Mark. Germany is by far the most powerful nation in Europe.
Which is a good place to start my List of Reasons I Miss the Berlin Wall.
As usually-correct economist-professor-columnist (and usually ignored) Paul Krugman has pointed out over and over, the German-dominated European Union — which would never have come into being had the Wall remained standing and the Soviet bloc continued to exist — has been an unwieldy amalgam of political autonomy and fiscal union, dragging relatively poorer nations like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (“PIGS”) into a vicious cycle of austerity, budget cuts and seemingly endlessly rising unemployment. “The creation of the euro was about politics and ideology, not a response to careful economic analysis (which suggested from the beginning that Europe wasn’t ready for a single currency),” Krugman wrote in May.
Why should hard-working Germans bail out lazy, corrupt Mediterranean nations? Protestant pundits ask. Scratch the surface of the Eurozone crisis and you find that the Germans aren’t the victims here. Far from propping up their swarthy southern partners, Germans are using their control over the euro to turn the PIGS into trade debtors.
Adolf blew his brains out but Germany won the war. Cuz: reunification.
The most important consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall was, of course, the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Economic shock therapy” — U.S.-backed Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s misbegotten attempt to convert the USSR’s state economy to neoliberalist capitalism overnight — led to the infamous Russian Mortality Crisis, when death rates soared 40% in Russia, and even higher in other former Soviet republics.
It has been estimated that 30 million people either died or will die as the result of the catastrophic dissolution of the USSR.
Socialism was destroyed but not replaced. The power vacuum opened by the collapse of the Soviet system was quickly filled by gangsters. Corrupt former factory managers forcibly seized state property and industries whose profits might otherwise have been used to create a blow-softening social safety net for the millions who lost their jobs. Hard drugs from Central Asia and Afghanistan, set free to fall apart after Gorbachev stepped down, supplemented rampant alcoholism. The infamous Russian oligarchy rose during this period, widening the gap between rich and poor, and set the stage for Putinism supported by traumatized Russians who happily chose authoritarianism over the anarchy of the post-Soviet period.
Former Soviet client states lost their financial and military backing. Nations like Somalia and Congo disintegrated into bloody civil conflict.
But hey. The demise of the Evil Empire was good for the United States, right?
American and European citizens paid trillions for the Cold War. After 1991, pundits promised a “peace dividend” — lower taxes, more public spending on infrastructure and social programs. Barely two years later, the peace dividend was gone — spent, ironically, on the high costs of the Soviet collapse.
“Defense cuts and reductions in military forces have brought in their wake a series of job losses,” Britain’s Independent newspaper reported in 1993. “The transitional costs of the end of the Cold War, combined with the inadequacy of government responses across Western Europe, have meant that we are worse, not better, off.”
You’d think that, as believers in the magic of the marketplace, Americans would see the value of competition in the world of ideas, militarily and politically, on the international scene. Whether or not they admit it, however, citizens of the United States have gotten softer and dumber after assuming their status as the world’s last remaining superpower. Unchallenged ideologically and otherwise, Americans questioned themselves and their beliefs in capitalism and American exceptionalism even less after the 1990s than before. But now, as de facto rulers of the last empire, Americans became the obvious targets of choice for opposition forces that want to change the new order, like fundamental Islamist movements.
It’s tough to disagree with the French writer Nicolas Bonnai, who noted in Pravda in 2012: “The US oligarchy [went] berserk, started new wars everywhere with the Bush dynasty and ruined [its] finances. Drastic inequality became the lemma of this crazy society driven by lunatic leaders and wars. Today America leads to nowhere; America is just a [locus] (Al Qaeda) of the new global matrix made of wars and terrors, manipulation and deregulation.”
The fall of the Berlin Wall created at least as many hardships as blessings.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, 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 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Everybody’s talking about — scratch that. Culture is too atomized for everybody to be talking about anything.
Lots of people who don’t usually cop to knowing about, much less watching, porn — writers at high-end intellectual magazines, columnists for The Washington Post — are talking about Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who embraced her outing as an adult film actress in an eloquent, feminist theory-imbued attack against slut-shaming.
Social media has responded as you’d expect: lots of mean slut-shaming that proves Knox’s point that “We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy.”
Big corporate media is reacting like George C. Scott finding out his daughter is a whore. Considering that the average age of a journalist is Old Enough to Be Knox’s Mom or Dad, knee-jerk Talibanality comes as little surprise, though quite unpleasant to watch.
About that Post columnist:
If Marcus hates the sin and not the sinner, it’s hard to tell. Her column drips with condescension and contempt.
“Methinks the freshman doth protest too much,” writes Marcus. Because, you know, like, 18 years old is mature enough to decide which Arabs to shoot, but not to have sex for money.
“Even more heartbreaking is listening to Knox’s still little-girlish voice describing how she’ll tell her parents. ‘I don’t want to,’ she told the Duke Chronicle last month, in the whiny tone of a child told to go to bed.”
Marcus goes on. Who could stop her? “She mentioned rough sex, which requires an unpleasant discussion of what kind of pornography we’re talking about here and the increasingly violent nature of the Internet-fueled pornography trade. These are not your father’s Playboys. Letting a man ejaculate on your face is not empowering under anyone’s definition of the term. It’s debasing.”
One: bukkake predates the Internet. If Marcus doesn’t know that, or how to Google, she should have spoken to or been edited by someone who does.
Two: what’s sexy and what’s empowering are purely subjective. Knox describes feeling “fear, humiliation, shame” — not from her work, but from neo-Puritan assholes on the Internet giving her a hard time. “Doing pornography fulfills me,” she writes.
Part of respecting women — of being a feminist — is taking them at their word. Thus, in the absence of evidence that Knox is lying or insane, I choose to believe her.
So. Why did Knox become a sex worker? Her answer: “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is.”
Media gatekeepers are ignoring it, but this is the real/big story.
Each year in the United States, 12 million freshmen take out student loans. By the time they graduate (or not), they wind up owing $26,000 — plus several times that amount in compound interest payments. In many cities, that’s more than the cost of a house.
Duke University charges Belle Knox $61,000 a year in tuition, room and board. I don’t care how many hours she could have put in at Starbucks; the only way a typical college kid can generate $250,000 in cash over four years is to think outside the box.
Knox isn’t alone. Many college students work as prostitutes.
When I attended Columbia University, I met many students who cut moral and legal corners to make their bursar bills.
I knew students who were call girls, including one who brought her clients to her dorm room to save on hotel rooms. Topless and nude dancers weren’t rare at Columbia. A close friend took advantage of his room’s southern exposure to grow pot plants; he sold his stash out of a deserted Butler Library stack full of 17th century Italian folios. Another pal was banking six figures as a cocaine dealer (it was the ’80s.)
I discovered that one of my classmates was sleeping in the park. There was nothing left after he paid tuition.
One of my buddies, now a minor success in Silicon Valley, had a unique racket. He climbed outside locked campus buildings using grappling hooks. Yes, like a ninja. He entered the chemistry and physics department storerooms through the windows. He then sold the chemicals — including radioactive stuff — to an oily man who worked at the mid-Manhattan consulate of a nation that did not get along with the U.S.
I won’t mention the guy who sold his poo in the Village.
Reagan slashed student financial aid during my freshman year. To pay my way sophomore year, I broke laws.
If I knew then what I know, I wouldn’t have done it. Going into debt or risking jail to pay exorbitant tuition at an “elite” school like Duke or Columbia is insane. You can get an excellent education at any number of cheaper, no-name schools. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by attending a community college for two years, then transferring for junior year; the name on the diploma is what matters.
But that’s the point. I was 18. Like Knox. There’s a reason the military recruits 17- and 18-year-olds. They don’t know anything. I still can’t believe when my mom drove me to the bank to sign the student loan agreement. I was 17. Seriously? I couldn’t vote or drink.
I thought Manhattan was Long Island.
Americans hear a drumbeat of “unless you attend college, your life will suck” propaganda the first 18 years of their lives. Their parents say it. Their teachers say it. Their guidance counselors and the media say it. The college/university industry spends millions to advertise the message that the more you spend on tuition, the more you’ll earn during your lifetime.
The President says it too.
Everyone says college is a must and that expensive college is better than cheap college. Of course Belle Knox and young Ted Rall and 20 million new suckers every year believe it.
Ruth Marcus concludes: “Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame.”
Belle Knox has nothing to be ashamed of.
The real sluts are the cash-whore trustees of Duke University, who are sitting on top of a $6 billion endowment, and the overpaid college and university officials who have jacked up tuition at twice the inflation rate year after year.
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Here is my cartoon this week for The Los Angeles Times:
The statewide legalization of marijuana in Colorado, for recreational as well as medicinal use, has prompted serious consideration of the drug’s health effects and socio-political ramifications. Well, that sure took awhile.
On the pro side, it’s been pretty much established that driving stoned isn’t nearly as dangerous as driving drunk. Since 7% of California motorists are cruising the state’s freeways with cannabis in their systems, that provides some comfort. (Sorry, no word on what percentage of the stoners are drunk as well.) Pot also has proven medical benefits; for example, parents of epileptic children are flocking to Colorado.
But the legalize hemp crowd’s timeless rant that pot is harmless is taking some hits.
A recent study claims to have documented the first two known cases of pot-related fatalities. Other studies find that beginning to smoke weed as a teenager — the most common age to start — can affect brain development, causing memory loss, permanently impaired judgment and even reduced IQ.
In musings that might surprise those who remember his “Moonbeam” period (but not those who have noticed there’s no squarer square than an old hippie), Gov. Jerry Brown took to Sunday morning TV to worry aloud that emulating Colorado could leave the state defenseless against (a) foreign business competition and (b) terrorism.
“How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?” Brown mused. “The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”
The governor didn’t say whether his garbled grammar was attributable to pot or the shortcomings of his secondary education.
I’m always interested in policy appeals motivated by fear. Politicians have unleashed an awful lot of threats — a few real but mostly imagined — during the last decade and a half. And they haven’t exactly made us a better, stronger or more economically successful nation. Brown’s thoughts are nowhere close to the depraved paranoia of Dick Cheney; the idea that California will be morally and economically weakened, its security undermined, because a tiny minority of the state’s residents regularly indulge in the evil weed seems about as serious and substantial as a puff of smoke.
Stay alert? What’s going to happen if we don’t, governor? Are Chinese sweatshop workers going to take a fiscal victory dance on the bones of our stoner-sapped competitiveness? Will our collected stonedness open up the one big chance radical Islamists have been waiting for?
Californians won’t have the chance to vote for legalized pot until November 2016 — if they’re not too wasted to remember.
When You Ask “Why?,” Mean It.
Why would anybody want to kill innocent people?
That’s what Americans — led by the media reporters and pundits who set the agenda for discussion — ask after every terrorist attack, particularly those carried out by foreigners.
Our mystified national cluelessness begs the question. Why do people blow up our embassies, bomb our ships, fly planes into our buildings, (try to) blow up their shoes and their underwear? They do it (partly) because we can’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing.
Studies, particularly the ones the media trots out at times like these, point to a number of factors. Some of these may help trigger the kind of violent “self-radicalization” that initial reports indicate may have led Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Kyrgyzstani brothers of Chechen descent, to detonate a pair of bombs at the Boston Marathon last week.
Was it psychological alienation? “I don’t have a single American friend,” Tamerlan, 26, supposedly the instigator of the attack, said. A traumatic event, like a job loss or the break-up of a romantic relationship? Some studies find that some self-radicalized (as opposed to those who are recruited into an organization) terrorists are made after they suffer a disappointment that sets them off, causing a person with political rage to graduate to violent direct action. After the Fort Hood shooting, the Pentagon concluded that substance abuse, post-traumatic stress syndrome or brain injuries sustained in an IED blast could be triggers. Some even blame the involvement of Dzhokhar, 19 and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, on reports that he was a pothead.
But hey, one could just as easily ask what drove state terrorist Barack Obama to murder thousands of innocent people with killer drones. Was the president sad after failing to win a second Nobel Prize? Did Michelle stop putting out? Did cocaine and/or marijuana scramble his right temporo-parietal junction, the part of the brain that controls the moral judgments of human beings? It’s pretty safe to say we’ll never be able to point to one, or two, or 17 discrete factors as the “causes” for the conscious choice to kill another person.
Like the drone war, the Boston Marathon bombings were a political act.
At this point, my best guess is that this was an attempt to strike back at the U.S. in its post-9/11 “great war of civilizations,” or Christian “crusade,” as George W. Bush called it. Authorities who questioned Dzhokhar in his hospital bed say that he and Tamerlan wanted to defend Islam from attack.
You can argue that the Tsarnaev brothers’ politics were wrong. That their tactics were counterproductive. That they were just “losers,” as their uncle called them. But we can’t understand why unless we dig into those politics.
Which is something that, 12 years after 9/11, the American media still refuses to do. Which increases the odds of future attacks.
Terrorism is not prima facie the act of a nut. Serial killers don’t detonate bombs. Terrorists don’t terrorize for fun.
“Terrorism [as opposed to state terrorism, like the drone wars] is the tool of the weak, used by disaffected groups or minorities to oppose the rule and (as they see it) the oppression of an established and militarily superior power,” Mark Nicholson wrote. “Because it is resistance on the cheap, terrorism often emerges out of civil society rather than state sponsorship, because oppressed civilian groups, lacking control over governmental machinery, can summon little or no regular military force able to confront their ‘oppressor’ in conventional military terms.”
We like terrorists. Some of them, anyway. During World War II German occupation forces characterized the leaders of the Warsaw ghetto uprising as “terrorists.” We view these doomed Jews, who fought to the death, as noble. The Afghan mujahedeen who struggled against the Soviets during the 1980s were terrorists to the USSR, “freedom fighters” to Ronald Reagan. The French Resistance assassinated public officials and robbed banks and bombed trains, and we love ’em for it. In movies like “Red Dawn,” we cheer the patriotic American “terrorists” who wage guerilla warfare against the invaders.
This, of course, is how radical Islamists see themselves: as heroic fighters in a resistance movement against a rapacious, cruel oppressor. (And if they prevail, that’s how history will read.) They’re not psychotic. They’re principled, willing to sacrifice everything for their cause.
Since 9/11 our leaders have repeatedly told us that “they” “hate our freedoms,” but of course this is nonsense. As Osama bin Laden remarked, if the Islamists resented liberal societies, if they wanted the world’s women all under burqas, Amsterdam would have been blown to bits. “We only killed Russians after they invaded Afghanistan and Chechnya, we only killed Europeans after they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq,” bin Laden wrote in 2004.
To ask why Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did what they did (if indeed they did it), to research their political motivations with an open mind, without dismissing them as random (friendless, stoned, loser) crazies, does not legitimize their tactics.
Self-styled Islamist resistance organizations like Al Qaeda haven’t garnered widespread support because terrorism against civilians is counterproductive. As Ché Guevara wrote, “terrorism [is] a measure that is generally ineffective and indiscriminate in its results, since it often makes victims of innocent people and destroys a large number of lives that would be valuable to the revolution.”
However, as Ché continued, terrorism directed against government or military officials can be legitimate: “Terrorism should be considered a valuable tactic when it is used to put to death some noted leader of the oppressing forces well known for his cruelty, his efficiency in repression, or other quality that makes his elimination useful.” After 9/11, for example, even some Americans viewed the Pentagon as a legitimate military target. Conversely, arguments that the World Trade Center, as a hub of a “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire,” was an acceptable target, were rejected. The WTC victims enjoy an exalted sainthood in popular culture; grief over the Pentagon victims has always been relatively muted.
No would-be revolutionary who knows history would have targeted a civilian target like the Boston Marathon.
So, let’s agree that the brothers’ tactics sucked. That what they did was evil. But what of their political motivations?
One would have to be blind not to understand why Muslims are enraged at the U.S.: Gitmo, drones, propping up dictators, Palestine, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, Iraq, the list goes on and on…and yes, Chechnya — where the Russians slaughtered thousands of innocents while their American allies silently cheered them on.
But few of us know about that. Because our media didn’t report it.
Which gets us back to:
Why’d the Boston bombers do it?
To get us to pay attention.
So we’ll force “our” government to stop what they’re doing in Muslim countries.
But that’ll never happen until we know “we’re” doing.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
The US Supreme Court is currently considering allowing police to draw your blood involuntarily without a warrant in the event that you refuse a breathalyzer test if you are suspected of drunk driving. It is an incredibly invasive procedure, but the authorities and the courts are siding with the cops because, incredibly, they complained that sometimes it is too difficult to get search warrants for your veins and arteries quickly enough before your blood alcohol level dissipates to legal levels.