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Monday, August 6, 2007

Welcome to the Third World

posted by on August 6 at 14:45 PM

When the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis last week I thought, “Man, we’re a couple of bus plunges away from officially being a third world country.” Most of the other indicators are already in place: We’re ruled by the imbecilic son of our former ruler; our rich are obscenely wealthy and our poor are obscenely poor; giant corporations abuse consumers with absolute impunity; the Democrats refuse to do anything about predatory lending or payday loans or credit card companies…

Well, other parts of the world—the first world, of which we used to be a member—are starting to notice just how fucked up our country is. From the UK’s Independent

You don’t have to visit this country for long to see how its transport infrastructure has deteriorated since the interstate system was built by Eisenhower in the Fifties. Never taken that pot-holed ride from JFK to Manhattan? Fasten your seatbelts for more turbulence. Or covered your ears in the screeching tunnels of the city’s antiquated subways? As for a cross-country ride on Amtrak, good luck.

Money here tends to flow towards items that make the pulse race. That would be elections, wars and that other national passion, sports. If there was a World Cup for baseball—rather than the so-called World Series in October which involves only the US and Canada - then finding decent venues would barely be a problem. Name a big city that doesn’t have a brand new, state of the art stadium it wants to show off.

Actually, that would be New York. But that is about to change. Its two major baseball teams, the Yankees and the Mets, are in deadly competition right now and not just to land places in the World Series play-off games this autumn. It’s about which of them can get their spanking new stadium finished first.

That’s right, while the Brooklyn Bridge gathers rust (yes, it is on the critical care list), somehow this city is building not one but two baseball stadiums barely six miles from each other.

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Implying that the UK is a first-world country instantly robs this post of any credibility.

Posted by joykiller | August 6, 2007 3:04 PM

Uhhh have you ever been to a third world? You are all far from itů

Posted by mj | August 6, 2007 3:08 PM

Excellent post. Does wife of a former ruler count as well?

Posted by Ryan | August 6, 2007 3:09 PM

The wife of a former ruler is more Peronista Argentina than true third world.

The obsession with stadiums is not just a US trait. It's a little rich to be hearing about it from the UK, where they just got finished building the most expensive sports stadium in the history of the world, the $1.5 billion New Wembley. Germany is stuffed full of new stadiums for last year's World Cup, and even cash-strapped South Africa is stupidly building a ton of new ones for 2010, though the Cup may be taken away from them if they don't finish in time. Greece and Venezuela too. Everybody's doing it.

Posted by Fnarf | August 6, 2007 3:16 PM

Feel better now Dan -- now that you've gotten all that recycled hyperbole off your chest?

Posted by raindrop | August 6, 2007 3:16 PM

@1 When I'm in London, I'm always incredibly impressed by the Tube, by the new, clean buses, by pretty much everything. Despite being so old that Seattle is an infant in comparison, London is in far better shape.

Posted by Gitai | August 6, 2007 3:17 PM

I'm not one to give Steve Scher and his KUOW show Weekday props too often, but he had Dave Zirin on this morning who addressed this very issue about citites bending over backward to build stadiums but don't put money toward schools.

I only heard half the interview, but it is up on the KUOW website now. I'm thinking about checking out Zirin's new book too.

Posted by rubyred | August 6, 2007 3:18 PM

I've heard that the way Europe in general pays for its roads is that a company is payed a fee both to build and maintain the roads. Therefore it's in the company's interest to make the roads better the first time around. In the US, we pay one company to make the road, and then another another fee to maintain the road. That means that in the US, the companies would rather make a shoddy road, and constantly reap maintanance fees than build the damn road well in the first place.

Posted by arduous | August 6, 2007 3:23 PM

@6: I didn't say London, I said the UK. Try stepping outside SE England and tell me the infrastructure is all bright and shiny.

Posted by joykiller | August 6, 2007 3:24 PM

The London Underground is terrific (though you'll never hear a Brit admit it), but it's hardly a hotbed of new investment. They've started several projects to upgrade the system recently, but for the past twenty-five years they've fallen well behind other comparable cities in line maintenance and new equipment.

In contrast, New York is a decade ahead of London in purchasing new rolling stock, and is currently building a whole new line.

Posted by Fnarf | August 6, 2007 3:25 PM

@9, all of the UK is extremely well connected via trains. I took the train a few years ago from London to the Isle of Skye in Scotland and back. The trains ran remarkably on time, and were clean and comfortable. We also took buses in all the cities we stopped at, and never had a problem with those either. And the roads seemed in pretty good repair. I'm not saying that the UK doesn't have its problems, but your comment @1 seems seriously off the mark to me.

Posted by arduous | August 6, 2007 3:28 PM

@11: I'm not surprised your experience with buses outside of London was good -- many cities outside the capital use a mix of private and public transit systems. Obviously private systems have greater access to capital. That was the case when I lived in Edinburgh.

In my experience, though, the highways (especially in the North), water/wastewater systems, and hospitals are fucking dilapidated, and barely a day went by when there was some sort of highway failure, we didn't have hot water, etc.

Of course, my comment was a little tongue-in-cheek -- the Brits use separate faucets for hot and cold water, for goodness sake! How can they be first world? -- but let's not pretend that the UK is some pinnacle of infrastructure investment.

Posted by joykiller | August 6, 2007 3:53 PM

I don't really think that the post was about the US vs. the UK, and no matter how much you want to go back and forth about which is worse you can't deny that it's a fucking travesty to have two new baseball stadiums in the same city whose bridges could collapse in the near future.

Posted by Carollani | August 6, 2007 4:06 PM

You see, we distract them with stadiums. Well, pacify I suppose is the better word. They pant and holler and scream and argue Mets v. Yankees, and all in all, neglect to make a fuss about anything of substance. And I like it that way - keeps my migraines down.

In better news, the Brooklyn Bridge is already in the midst of a $145 million face lift (Liza Minelli style), and she was fully inspected the day after the Minnesota bridge collapse. They say she's okay.

Posted by Soo | August 6, 2007 4:44 PM


I like your titanic laundry list of woes, which all of a sudden veers offtrack into payday loans and cc companies. WTF?

(1) Didn't you guys recently write an article that said that the Dems in the WA lege have basically done a good job, with a few exceptions? Interesting that the exceptions make your list of biblical woes.

(2) People who use payday loan stores and people who sign up for predatory loans and then get cold feet? Boo hoo. You're saying I should be able to smoke a spliff but not take a usury loan? How does that work, exactly? If victimless crimes are not crimes (and I think we agree they are not) then that holds true for the mechanisms of capitalism as well as recreational pharmacology.

US vs UK: neither is anywhere near the third world. Try to get a sandwich as you're trying to bicycle across rural Uganda. Go ahead.

Posted by Big Sven | August 6, 2007 4:59 PM

Full disclosure: I didn't ride across Uganda. But a friend of mine did. He reached a point where he didn't have any food, and then slowly started to realize with growing horror that none of the locals in any of the towns he went through did either. *That's* significant pucker factor.

Posted by Big Sven | August 6, 2007 6:44 PM

while it is true that there are far worse countries in the world such as uganda, that really isn't the issue. the point is that the usa can in no way claim to be a first world country any longer. too many people living in poverty, too much structural deficiencies, too much power concentrated in the extremely wealthy. shit people, we don't even have a health care system. the uk may be a poor european example, but they still hand the usa its ass.

Posted by douglas | August 6, 2007 7:23 PM

And in less than 24 hours, one of you is going to brag about how Obama or Hillary or some other federal politician raised tens of millions of dollars. Uh huh.

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