Tag Archives: Stalin

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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Is the GOP Doomed? Slightly Less than the Dems

In a Two-Party System, the Loser is Us

Stalin called bourgeois parties “the dancing bears of social democracy.” Toothless and undignified distractions, these non-movements personify the function of electoral politics—to channel the energies of the oppressed into bullshit discussions about trivia and inanities.

Uncle Joe’s hilariously inelegant phrase comes to mind these days as the corporate pundit class prattles on and on about the supposed current crise de coeur of the GOP. How, everybody is asking (if, by everybody, you mean a coupla dozen writers), can the Republican Party maintain its relevance?

Like that grammatical atrocity The Sequester (it’s a budget cut), the Republicans-could-go-extinct meme is a crisis so manufactured it hardly exists. The Party of Hoover still controls the House of Representatives. They hold us 27 state legislatures and 30 governors mansions.

You could even argue that they have the Democratic Party. The Dems of yore, after all, were big-spending liberals standing up for the little guy. FDR and LBJ wouldn’t recognize guys like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, more worried about deficits, sucking up more to bankers and ignoring the plight of the poor and oppressed than so-called conservatives, as members of their party.

All this handwringing over the alleged danger that the GOP could fade into irrelevance—that’s mediaspeak for losing more elections—ignores the fact that Barack Obama only defeated Mitt Romney, a bizarre human being and an awful candidate—by a few percentage points. Republicans lost a few seats in the House and a pair in the Senate, but things basically remained unchanged. Not bad for a party that failed to present any new ideas beyond the usual gays suck, government should be small when the other party is in charge, and one of these days, just you wait and see, the rich really will spend some of those tax cuts here in the States.

The argument that Republicans need to reinvent themselves boils down to two factors, the first shoulder-shruggingly silly: given what a terrible job Obama did with the economy during his first term, the Republicans should have done better. No one was closer to summing this up than The New York Times the morning after Electorapocalypse 2012: “After four years in which the jobless rate never dipped below 7.8 percent, with millions of Americans still unemployed or underemployed and median household income falling, Republicans still failed to unseat President Obama and, for the second election in a row, fell short in their efforts to win control of a Senate that seemed within reach.”

A lack of crushing victory does not a defeat make.

The Paper of Record, Wednesday-morning quarterbacking elections a decade or two earlier, was evidently astonished by voters’ refusal to maintain its previous practice of punishing the incumbent party for a bad economy by rewarding an opposition that offers nothing better.

The worry that Republicans really should focus on is demographics: an influx of immigration, especially by Latinos alienated by decades GOP race-baiting on illegal immigration, coupled with a seemingly long term trend among young adults toward increased liberalism on social issues like gay marriage—young adults who will of course become the older adults of the future.

“The question now facing Republicans,” Brian Montopoli of CBS News wrote in November, “is whether they shift toward the middle or instead try to appeal to growing demographic groups while staying planted firmly on the right side of the political spectrum.”

George Skelton of The Los Angeles Times quotes a “veteran political consultant” who explains why California’s GOP is pretty much doomed: “Too white, too right and too uptight,” says the consultant, a Democrat. “That’s why the Republican Party can’t come back in California.”

A cogent and witty summary. And many conservatives seem to agree. The problem for them, as it was with Romney’s failure to make the case that he couldn’t fix the economy, is that all the proposed solutions are so lame that they’re hardly worth trying.

Karl Rove, “Bush’s architect” whose crazy right-wing politics now seem positively liberal compared to the even crazier, further-right Tea Party-dominated GOP, addressed delegates to the California state Republican convention last week, making the case for tokenism: “We need to be asking for votes in the most powerful way possible, which is to have people asking for the vote who are comfortable and look like and sound like the people that we’re asking for the vote from.” In other words, Marco Rubio. Which is Spanglish for Condoleezza Rice/Colin Powell. Sorry, but minorities have become too sophisticated for that. They want candidates who stand up for them, not just those whose skin tone matches theirs on the RGB chart.

In his pamphlet “Go For the Heart: How Republicans Can Win,” David Horowitz, whose politics blend classic 1930s fascism with Reagan at his welfare-queen filthiest, argues that the Republican victories of the future rely on a combination of hope and fear, making voters feel that Republicans care about them and that liberals want to enslave them in some imaginary nanny state. The trouble is that neither argument stands a chance of getting off the ground given decades of GOP propaganda. If Republican leaders have been successful at anything, it’s that convincing Americans that, not only do they not care about them, Americans don’t deserve to be cared about, and indeed anyone who does care is evil. As the tacit support for Obama’s flawed healthcare reform plan demonstrates, however, people really do want the government to care about them, at least to some extent. If anything, they’d like a little more nannying (in the form of a public option).

Many conservatives suggest downplaying the GOP’s stands on social issues because they aren’t popular. Some say they should be changed entirely. Others imagine a mishmash of social liberalism or at least libertarianism and fiscal conservatism.

The real reason that all of this is interesting is that it reveals the muddleheaded mess that characterizes political thought at this, a crucial juncture in the late final crisis of late stage capitalism in America. A successful political party, whether a genuine movement or a dancing bear of bourgeois electoral democracy, requires a consistent and coherent ideology. It isn’t enough to cobble together a laundry list of poll-tested positions on issues past and present. You have to put forth a way of thinking about the world that allows anyone to predict with a high degree of accuracy how your party would respond to the problems, challenges and controversies of the future, to events that are completely impossible to imagine today.

The Republicans aren’t anywhere close to achieving a coherent—much less popularly appealing—ideology.

On the other hand, neither are the Democrats.

(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

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