SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our F— You System of Government

Anti-Occupy Crackdowns Highlight Lack of Services

Governments are supposed to fulfill the basic needs of their citizens. Ours doesn’t pretend to try.

Sick? Too bad.

Can’t find a job? Tough.

Broke? Can’t afford rent? We don’t give a crap.

Forget “e pluribus unum.” We need a more accurate motto.

We live under a f— you system.

Got a problem? The U.S. government has an all-purpose response to whatever ails you: f— you.

During the ’80s I drove a yellow taxi in New York. Then, as now, there were no public restrooms in the city. At 4 in the morning, with few restaurants or bars open, the coffee I drank to stay awake posed a significant challenge.

It was—it is—insane. People pee. People poop. As basic needs go, toilets are as basic as it gets. Yet the City of New York, with the biggest tax base of any municipality in the United States, didn’t provide any.

So I did what all taxi drivers did. What they still do. I found a side street and a spot between two parked cars. It went OK until a cop caught me peeing under the old elevated West Side Highway, which later collapsed due to lack of maintenance. Perhaps decades of taxi driver urine corroded the support beams.

“You can’t do that here,” said the policeman.

“Where am I supposed to go?” I asked him. “There’s aren’t any restrooms anywhere in town.”

“I know,” he replied before going to get his summons book from his cruiser.

The old “f— you.” We create the problem, then blame you for the results.

I ran away.

In recent days American mayors have been ordering heavily armed riot police to attack and rob peaceful members of encampments allied with Occupy Wall Street.

Like NYC, which won’t provide public restrooms but arrests public urinators, government officials and their media allies use their own refusal to provide basic public services to justify raids against Occupations.

In the middle of the night on November 15th NYPD goons stormed into Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. They beat and pepper-sprayed members of Occupy Wall Street and destroyed the books in their library. Citing “unsanitary conditions,” New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, then told reporters: “I have become increasingly concerned…that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protesters and to the surrounding community.”

Four days before the police attack The New York Times had quoted a city health department statement worrying about the possible spread of norovirus, vomiting, diarrhea and tuberculosis: “It should go without saying that lots of people sleeping outside in a park as we head toward winter is not an ideal situation for anyone’s health.”

So why don’t they give the homeless some of the thousands of abandoned apartment units in New York?

Anyway, according to the Times: “Damp laundry and cardboard signs, left in the rain, have provided fertile ground for mold. Some protesters urinate in bottles, or occasionally a water-cooler jug, to avoid the lines at [the few] public restrooms.”

Of course, there’s an obvious solution: provide adequate bathroom facilities—not just for Occupy but for all New Yorkers. But that’s off the table under New York’s f— you system of government.

Doctors noted a new phenomenon called “Zuccotti cough.” Symptoms are similar to those of “Ground Zero cough” suffered by 9/11 first responders.

Zuccotti is 450 feet away from Ground Zero.

Which brings to mind the fact that the collapse of the World Trade Center towers released 400 tons of asbestos into the air. It was never cleaned up properly. Could Occupiers be suffering the results of sleeping in a should-have-been-Superfund site for two months?

We’ll never know. As under Bush, Obama’s EPA still won’t conduct a 9/11 environmental impact study.

Sick? Wanna know why? F— you.

One of the authorities’ most ironic complaints about the Occupations is that they attract the mentally ill, drug users and habitually homeless.

To listen to the mayors of Portland, Denver and New York, you’d think the Occupiers beamed in bums and nutcases from outer space.

When mentally disabled people seek help from their government, they get the usual answer: f— you.

When people addicted to drugs—drugs imported into the U.S. under the watchful eyes of corrupt border enforcement officers—ask their government for help, they are turned away. F— you again.

When people who lost their homes because their government said “f— you” to them rather than help turn to the same government to look for safe shelter, again they are told: “f— you.”

And then, after days and years and decades of shirking their responsibility to provide us with such staples of human survival as places to urinate and defecate and sleep, and food, and medical care, our “f— you” government has the amazing audacity to blame us, victims of their negligence and corruption and violence, for messing things up.

Which is why we are finally, at long last, starting to say “f— you” to them.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is



  • Spacious Specious
    November 16, 2011 1:55 PM

    All my life, I’d heard jokes about French plumbing. Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Paris and found cheap for-pay toilets scattered about downtown near the major retailers. I’m not talking about the electronic self-cleaning abominations. I’m talking spotless, eat-your-breakfast-off-the-floor restrooms staffed with janitors. For mere pocket change, you could use the urinal. For a little more, you could have a private toilet in its own little private room. Both prices were well within reach of the folks asking for change in the street. It’s not a perfect system — it only seems perfect when compared to America’s total lack of any system whatsoever.
    Because Americans’ shit doesn’t stink, our retailers and small businesses have to bear the entire burden of providing free sanitary facilities for the urban destitute. Even a die-hard capitalist busy tongueing the nethers of the free marketplace can see the flaw here.

  • This is a powerful, timely piece. Thank you, Ted Rall. (My only gripe is that it’s infantile to not spell the word out.)

    I predict the more retarded among the “libertarian” set will take issue with the idea that “governments are supposed to fulfill the basic needs of their citizens.” They believe the only function of government is to protect private property. And this idea is odious.

    To them: Fuck you.

  • I think that services, government, and programs suffer primarily from a “Risk analysis paralysis”. Public toilets, allowing people to sleep outdoors, giving away apartments, letting people speak their minds at any public function: those services and rights often lead to significant risks in the form of lawsuits. The risks are minimized and people become part of an equation to manage that. Roberts rules of order was created to open forums but it has become a tool employed to limit all things to absolute equality to avoid risk. The public toilets, camps, and issues with the city of NY deposing protestors at OWS could have some connection to a capitalist society trying to hold onto wealth but I suspect that the issue became one of “the city can not tolerate a risk this great and any moment a mini cholera will erupt and if we go in with the theory we are preventing that from happening we are admitting we knew it is a problem and with the risk this great, someone will sue and our charter politically is to minimize all risk. So use the tool to close it. Same issue with the superfund cleanup. studying it proves tehre is a problem, that causes enormous risk with settlements and lawsuits. The decision to not prove there is an asbestos hazard and who knows what other toxic residue problem goes to limiting risk and that is deliberate. I simply don’t believe the overhwelming factor for the deliberate minimization of risk is to perpetuate a system of capitilistic stoogery. It’s not about affording toilets. It’s about building them then having some risk like someone falls in one or a person is molested in one or adequate security is put in to limit molestation and someone sues for privacy. You are somewhat fighting against corruption but you are also fighting against a system of enormous bureaucratic risk prevention. Examples abound of ludicrous issues where common sense disappears in the face of risk equality: TSA searching bawling five year olds while their mothers watch from behind a rope, Banks refusing quialified refinances on loans they hold for people with good credit from a 30 to 15 year note because an appraisal comes back low (they already hold the note in the first place!), even stories of people who have declared bankruptcy trying to come back and pay what they feel they morally owe after years of careful savings and getting back on their feet and the institutions can’t accept the payment since it was already written off. I think the protestors were evicted the moment the city could no longer tolerate a potential financial risk.

  • Welcome to capitalism.

  • Spacious, I’ve heard about the pay restrooms in France. I think the same company was involved in trying to set them up in NY long ago, but it never panned out.

  • Spacious Specious
    November 16, 2011 6:01 PM

    I should amend my post by pointing out that French JCDecaux robo-toilets have already been installed in San Francisco. Seattle has abandoned their robo-toilets as a nuisance.

    If there are two homeless people in line to use a robo-toilet, your wait as third in line will count out to about twenty minutes due to the Rube Goldberg mechanism which sanitizes the box. Patience is a virtue, but the alley is a necessity.

    The robo-toilet installed at the end of Haight Street got so lagged that the city finally decided to remove the payment and open it for free. The fact that it is located at the entrance of a park which has its own “free” facilities probably also figured into this decision.

    Currently, a human being’s ability to make a mess trumps a robot’s ability to clean it. Until Mark Pauline makes a robot-toilet that literally scares the shit out of you, this technology will continue to fail.

    It appears that France (who pioneered the robo-toilet and celebrated the fact by executing a young girl inside one) pays the janitors and overseers of the downtown facilities a living wage. This radical move seems to ensure that the facilities are kept clean. The cleanliness of the facilities seems to counteract the human impulse to smear feces on the wall. Or maybe that’s just an American thing. I don’t hate America yet, so I am unwilling to delve further into the matter.

  • @exkiodexian: now here we can agree.

  • @Ted: this is most excellent. My only complaint is on the drug thing. It is not just corrupt border guards, it is a more or less open secret that the CIA engages in massive trafficking and protection of certain drug rackets to help provide funds to prop up its preferred dictators in various other countries. (quick primer: That is a double fuck you to America and the World at large right there and thus an important example that you grossly underplayed here.

  • drooling zombies everywhere
    November 17, 2011 8:17 PM

    Well, arguably, governments are just supposed to regulate the behavior of their citizens. Or something. I mean, it’s controversial. They keep telling us we’re supposed to fulfill our own basic needs, right? But busting up kitchens and taking people’s tents away, the police state isn’t just failing to provide for people–it’s actively preventing regular folks from providing for themselves, and for each other.

  • There are toilets in NY subways. “mens” and “womens”. They are from another era, and are now closed.

    @jperiodic, you nailed it. In the absence of real services, it’s every man for himself. Slip and fall in a public bathroom? No healthcare? Time to sue. Oh, guess we can’t have restroom either.
    It’s like a meta F-you.