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Dispatch / March 9, 2010

colorado springs

I had just moved into a house in the northern suburbs of Colorado Springs, and was getting to know one of my new roommates, a very attractive female in her mid 20’s. This was promising. At some point though, the conversation turned to politics. She asked me, “You’re not another one of those liberals are you?” There she was, a thin 5’6 or so brunette in tight jeans and an expensive blouse: beautiful, well-spoken, well dressed, and educated. And conservative as hell.  This kind of girl is ubiquitous in Colorado Springs. Not exactly what you think of when you see the, without a better way to put it, interesting looking types who attend the Tea Party rallys. In fact, my previous experiences were the exact opposite: the liberal girls more likely to be attractive, and the hardcore conservatives, um, not so much. I quickly found out that my old way of thinking would not work here. This evil flip of my traditional paradigm is God’s way of fucking with me, telling my non-believing ass, “You’re in the wrong place, pal. You don’t belong here. This is my country.” Every thing is different in the country’s most ultra-conservative city.

Colorado Springs is a strange place. It’s got one of the country’s most beautiful backdrops, with the fourteen-thousand-foot Pikes Peak and its surrounding mountains on the western border. I don’t know how many times I’ve almost caused a 50-car pileup driving down I-25 because I was too busy gawking at those damned mountains.


And yet, Colorado Springs also feels like the epitome of the United States, and this is not a compliment. Suburban sprawl stretches as far as you can see to the north and east. I spent the first five months of my stay in the northern suburb of Briargate. This was my first experience ever living in the ‘burbs, and it was as bad as I’d feared. Endless fast food restaurants, for one thing. (Eric Schlosser’s great book, Fast Food Nation, focuses on Colorado Springs as a new model of the fast food industry. When you are here, it quickly becomes apparent why). Never-ending strip malls with parking lots full of Chevy Suburbans and all the other stereotypical shit. The residents are friendly on the surface, but you know their tone would change if they found out you were a left-wing atheist or something worse…

You may read this and say, “This is just another tired complaint about the suburbs,” or “There are places like this in every American city, what’s the difference here?” Let me tell you the difference. This place is worse, and I can prove it.

For one thing, Colorado Springs is nicknamed “The Evangelical Vatican” and for good reason: it’s the home base of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and numerous other raging evangelical organization. Richard Dawkins would be lynched if he came anywhere near here. New Life Church, which used to be Ted Haggard’s (of meth-snorting closet-case homophobe fame) lair, can be found on the outer rim of town. The National Journal recently named Colorado Springs Congressman Doug Lamborn the most conservative member of the U.S. House. And just to make sure the Evangelicals are right in the thick of the Apocalypse and End of Days, Colorado Springs is home to the NORAD facility built into Cheyenne Mountain and to two major military bases, Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base. The United States Air Force Academy (which has a curious history of anti-Semitic incidents) is also located here. The armed forces are so prevalent here that my shaved head gets me mistaken for being military nearly everywhere I go. This has never happened any where else. I get treated with a level of respect I’ve never experienced before. I am offered military discounts (If only I had some sort of military ID…). My grumpy old, ex-military neighbor with his flawless military ‘do and dress slacks hiked up to his belly, once asked me, “How’s that war going?” without specifying which one. To him, it is all the same fight against those heathen Muslims. “It’s going well,” I played along, curious as to where this would go. Not far. “Keep up the great work,” he responded brusquely before returning to his quest to have the perfect yard when he dies. Hmmm….I didn’t realize anything going on in “that war” could be considered great, but apparently I don’t understand the eternal optimism of the war hawk. Whenever we are failing to impose our dwindling will on some poor little Podunk country, everything is apparently swell.  The list of the city’s right-wing credentials goes on and on.


Now you can add “Obamaville” to that venerable list. This was the derisive name anonymously given to one of the city’s many homeless tent camps, an obvious play on the Depression’s “Hooverville.” The giant poster bearing the name was put on a fence that borders the camp, visible from the interstate. The camps began appearing at the end of April and early May of last year, peaking in tent-city numbers this January. There are approximately 500 chronic homeless in Colorado Springs, with about 300 staying in the ten or so camps that currently exist.

On February 9, the Colorado Springs City Council voted 8-1 to ban all “camping” on city public property–as if the homeless were just a bunch of spoiled free-loading hippies, rather than unfortunate victims and failures. The single dissenting vote came from a City Council member who had once been homeless in Colorado Springs himself.  The ordinance was then approved by the city attorney and has since passed another City Council vote, 8-1. Any day now, the police will enter the camps giving notice and warning for the homeless to move out. This is Christianity-in-action, according to the warped, mean version peddled by Dobson, Haggard and the rest.

The city is ready to kick the homeless out of their camps but has absolutely no interest in spending any budget money to help these people survive and get on their feet once they’ve been kicked out of their tents, leaving that job to severely under-funded and under-staffed nonprofit groups. While the camps are far from ideal (three particularly crime-ridden camps are being called “meth” camps, one a “heroin” camp; others have reportedly been plagued by sexual and physical abuse, with rumors of girls as young as 12 being pimped out in return for a place to stay) there are few other options available for the homeless. As awful as living in the tent cities is, what comes next is the abyss.

Not surprisingly, Colorado Springs is Tea Party country. A local measure on last November’s ballot to raise property taxes went down in defeat, with 62,923 voters (63%) saying “you can have my precious dollars when you pry them from my cold dead hands.” The good Christian folks here have a simple philosophy: they love their tax breaks big, and their government small. Now that the city can’t even fund basic services, we’ll see how locals deal with the consequences. The recent budget cuts became somewhat of a national story, and for good reason. Colorado Springs is going to become a fitting example, and perhaps preview for others, of what massive cutbacks look like: greatly reduced street lighting, more unfilled potholes than you can imagine, brown public lawns resulting from water cutbacks when the weather warms up, and probably some foot-high brown public lawns (the city is asking citizens to help mow the property). Not exactly Third World, post- apocalyptic hell, but not what you would expect from perhaps the “moral” and militaristic hub of a global superpower either.

So while the city government tries to get rid of the tent camps that are supposedly muddying the city’s image, it lets its own parks and public terrains decay. Recreation centers and museums will shut down unless private funding can be found. Unfilled jobs in the fire department and law enforcement agencies could have an even more severe impact.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, depending on how jaded you are, the average person here seems unaware or apathetic about the looming disasters. The conservative voters seem obliviously content, for the time being at least–everything’s playing out exactly as they’d wished all along.

As for the other side, even the Springs has a small liberal population that, like everywhere else, is feckless.  These types don’t live in the suburbs. The lefties can be found in the midtown area, the Westside (location of my current digs), and the nearby hippie settlement further to the west, Manitou Springs. They are more irritating than anything else, and certainly nothing for the right to fret over. The most typical liberal here seems to be some strange breed of yuppie and hippie. They wear outdoor/backpacker apparel, love to discuss their wilderness exploits, and go to coffee shops to listen to folk groups and “authentic” roots music. If you’re ever looking to have a deep conversation about rock climbing or “Flight of the Conchords,” look no further.  If you want to find someone with whom to commiserate on the sorry state of this city and country, good luck.I realize that it’s too much to ask for any sort of activism or public anger these days–unless you’re old, white, rightwing and enjoying your Medicare. But I don’t even see any liberal anger in private. It seems for many liberals out here that if it’s not about the environment, while certainly a noble cause, it is of little concern to them.

In the end, it’s fitting that this community was the home of “Obamaville.” While the streets grow dark around the average citizen’s home and basic services slip, the outlook for those without a home is even bleaker.  If the city refuses to pay for what most every other American community has, what are the chances it will want to do anything to help the homeless? You know, besides kick them out and tell them to move on?

Is Colorado Springs becoming a model of the new American City? We’ll find out soon enough. For the time being, keep an eye on the Springs, because this could get messy.

Scott Bein is a native Missourian who, for reasons unknown even to himself, moved to Colorado Springs, CO. You can reach him here.

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Add your own

  • 1. FrankMcG  |  March 14th, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    “Private enterprise is always the better solution and only fails when the government gets involved.”

    For real? Would you care to extend this philosophy to public services and infrastructure? Would you rather have private security personal patrolling the streets instead of police? One of those is beholden to several strict regulations determined by representatives that the public has a voice in. The other is beholden only to what their boss determines is best for bottom line profit. Taken to its logical extreme, the libertarian free market model would tell you, “Eventually the free market would steer consumer demand to the private security firms that DON’T savagely beat you and rape your daughter.” Should we have a privatized fire department that lets houses burn if the owners aren’t paying customers?

    uh huh

    How about roads? Have you ever SEEN a private road? Torn up shit hole. A privately owned road would only be repaired when the owner determined that the cost of lost business from car accidents resulting from potholes outweighed the cost of maintenance (think Ed Norton’s office job in Fight Club).

    The whole free market argument also comes from the frame of mind that every business is a local ma & pop outfit dedicated to long term productivity. In reality, short term slash and burn corporate profits are often a higher priority than actual sustainable productivity. You CANNOT afford that kind of shit with vital infrastructure and services.

    See people, the entire idea behind public services can be summed up in one word: wholesale. Goods become cheaper by the unit the greater quantities are bought, and service fees lower the larger the subscription base. A privately owned park would probably cost $5-10 per person per visit because fewer people would visit a park if they had to pay for it. Wouldn’t it be a great deal if everyone could have unlimited use of that park for only 50 cents a year?

    That’s exactly the kind of “wholesale” deal that public services allow. Hey look, it ties right back into the venerated price-consumption curve! It’s the best possible deal for services and institutions that most people want, but would be prohibitively expensive on a “pay as you use” basis. In addition it covers all the areas that should NOT be beholden to private interests and profit (police, schools).

  • 2. Necronomic Justice  |  March 15th, 2010 at 1:16 am

    @48, You should read Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums.

  • 3. Necronomic Justice  |  March 15th, 2010 at 1:39 am

    @48, If you don’t have time for that dense academic book. I also would like to recommend a short little essay from the same author,


    A nice little glimpse of what was going to be the role model of a Libertarian (“Anarcho”Capitalist/Monarchist?) city State, before the global economic crisis hit.

    Hey it is cheaper to live outside of the city after all!

  • 4. blargh  |  March 15th, 2010 at 4:28 am

    Libertarian here again, answering to 49. But before a brief answer to necronomic: dubai is not that libertarian-capitalist, it’s a totalitarian dictatorship that infringes basic human rights. A constitution well enforced by a judicial system works best for capitalism. And don’t link me to that keynesian soothsayer Davis.

    Okay on to 49. You’re not the one to tell what is a living and what is not, you bleeding-heart nancy. Asia is doing very well right now and in 20 years they will have a higher standard of living then you or your kids. Why? Because they work. They work for what their work is worth. So they build – because people give them jobs.

    It’s better to work 3 dollars an hour then not to work at all.

    Do you think OUR civilization wasn’t built this way? Do you think western standard of living just sprouted out of the ground?

    “In reality, short term slash and burn corporate profits are often a higher priority than actual sustainable productivity. You CANNOT afford that kind of shit with vital infrastructure and services.”

    That is pure bullshit. Short-term profit at the cost of long-term productivity makes your company go under. UNLESS Obungobungo beats the money drum and Witchdoctor Bernanke conjures your company some free fiat cash. Yeah, then we have a problem.

    The current system IS fucked but from the exact opposite direction you think it is. All these big corporations get away with being big money pits because the government thinks they are “too big to fail.”

    Let me tell you a little story of the great collapse of 1920. No, not 1929. Nineteen-twenty. The stock market crashed, way worse than it did in 1929. Unemployment skyrocketed and the economy was completely in tatters. So what did the government do to fix this insane problem? Nothing. One year later the entire thing FIXED ITSELF. This crash was WORSE than the crash of 1929.

    You are just not seeing the big picture of how things really operate. You’re looking at one aspect alone like a complete idiot. “Oh if workers have more money that’ll be good!” No it won’t because that money will have to come from somewhere. Somewhere where it might’ve paid off better.

    Capitalism isn’t something you can force, it isn’t a system you either have or not, it is reality. Capitalism is simply the most accurate depiction of how the economy really works. Capitalism is when you stop trying to fight against other people.

    The soviet union was also under the sway of capitalist forces. It was just one big shitty corporation that finally went bankrupt. Capitalism is reality simply because you cannot make something out of nothing. The laws of physics apply to the economy aswell. If the government could just make stuff out of the ether and give them to people then sure, the gov would be a force of great good. Unfortunately the only thing the government gives back to the people are things it stole from them in the first place.

    If you think the money just comes from big bad evil nasty rich people you’re a delusional clown.

    America has become more and more socialist ever since 1913 and the standard of living has been going down gradually. A single blue collar job used to be able to sustain an family with a house. Now you need two jobs and some debt on top.

  • 5. twain  |  March 15th, 2010 at 5:01 am

    Some good discussion here….

    ballsach –a far better solution than many.
    May not be perfect, but I’d go for it in a heartbeat over what
    we have now. Natch, the powers-that-be would NEVER go for it,
    limits their power ya know…
    Amazing that you qualify for any aid…they wouldn’t give me anything
    other than a hard time when I was down…(being flat strapped didn’t
    qualify me for anything in those days…and I was down for a LONG
    Joe Blow -yea, you’ve got the numbers right, BUT
    I remember when perot ran for office (and every media outlet made
    him out to be a nutcase….course, if you actually LISTENED to what
    he had to say you found out he left the other contenders flopping
    in the dust…Note: some of what he said I didn’t agree with, but
    he wasn’t in the same class as the professional liars/politicians
    by any means….), BUT, I remember him saying that he paid less in
    taxes than his lowest-paid warehouse worker, and that THAT was a
    problem. If you’re on the bottom, you’ll pay (you might get something
    back, but you WILL pay), if you’re in the middle, you’re hosed.
    If you’re at the top, you’re in a whole different catagory,
    the laws are made by those who are paid by that top couple percent
    and -naturally- are written in their favor. Yea, the numbers show
    that they’re highly taxed, but that is what trusts, investments,
    and tax lawyers are for. Note that if you’re at the top and are
    stupid enough to try to really cheat, they’ll hit you hard,
    but there’s no real need to do that. Invest, open trusts/foundations
    and writeoff. hey, after a point it’s all a game anyway.
    The “left” keep yelling “take their money, they STOLE it!”
    but they want to give it to the biggest crooks in the country,
    somehow thinking that they can control those in charge.
    Never happened, never will. That’s REALITY.
    Even if they could, the social programs they want are too big to pay for.
    THAT’S reality too.
    The “right” thinks that they can get the big government that they
    like to rah-rah for (mostly military) but they want almost the same as their
    buddies to the left of them, big government but with the money spent differently.
    and they want to get it by cutting social programs…
    Again, doesn’t work that way and for the same reasons.
    Last audit of the military showed that $7 out of $8 was just flat
    unaccounted for. (remember what rumsfeld said about the money on 10 Sept 01?,
    forgot, didn’t ya? know what else was being investigated in the part
    of the pentagon that got hit? Go look it up.) Both parties believe it’s
    their “destiny” to run the world…left to solve it’s problems, the right
    to control it. And both want us (the people with jobs) to pay for it.
    It will never happen. Not the way they want to do it.
    They’d do far better to just hand out blue jeans and rock music for a couple

    Merchantilism is not capitalism.
    Politicians will always say whatever it takes to get into office.
    (Look at what they ALWAYS do, not what they say.)
    Once there, the BEST they can do is steal from one group to and to the other.
    And the whole time, they’ll be skimming the vast majority off the top
    to line the pockets of themselves and their buddies.
    That’s reality.

    The best we can hope for is to keep them as weak and powerless as possible.
    yea, may cause problems. Yea, may be issues getting services in some areas
    via private enterprise, etc
    but compared to being a slave to a bunch of elected psychopaths?
    I’ll take those problems ANY day over the alternative.
    I don’t care to be a slave to anyone, whether they’re a private individual
    or an elected/appointed official (the little “D”, “R” or even “L” next to
    their name doesn’t make the least bit of difference).
    Naturlly, the people currently in charge (and those that also want to be)
    don’t agree….

  • 6. FrankMcG  |  March 15th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Oh man, a libertarian telling me I’m a clown who doesn’t understand how the world works and in the same breath calling taxes “stealing” by the government. That pretty much tells you the kind of hopeless logic we’re dealing with. To a libertarian’s child understanding, they should get an immediate tangible good or service for their money. So when they fork over $10k in taxes to the government and don’t receive a shiny new car in return, they cry “thief!”. Their notion of tax collection literally comes from Hagar the Horrible comic strips.

    Listen, I won’t bother you anymore if you just go hide in your bunker where the evil hooded tax collectors can’t get you. Polish your guns all you want, just never vote again. Deal?


    There’s a lot of what I like to call “cynical superiority” here where people like to denounce everything to hedge their bets that they’ll never turn out to be “wrong” about something and look like a fool. That’s where you get a lot of this “both sides are just as bad!”, which is the closest thing you’ll ever get to a conservative minded person admitting that they were wrong about something.

    But seriously, is spending money on programs to establish infrastructure and a social safety net REALLY just the same as pouring hundreds of billions into the military industrial complex? Who exactly is getting “rich” off of social programs? Most of it goes to bottom income earners and any money they make is pretty much immediately pumped back into the economy. I’m sure we’ve all known friends or loved ones who would have been out on their ass if they didn’t have unemployment covering them while they tried to get back on their feet. Would you rather they become homeless so a billionaire Lockheed shareholder can ferret his tax break to Cayman accounts?

    You show me any country with a huge disparity of wealth and no social safety net, and I’ll show you a place that’s a shithole for 90% of the populace. I know you Tea Party types hate Mexico, and I can’t think of a closer example of a country with massive wealth concentration (something like half a dozen families control over half the national wealth, and the top one just passed Bill Gates for richest person in the world).

    Another thing is the more you dismantle those safety nets and the more people you leave out to dry in abject poverty, the more the haves start pumping into non-producing security jobs to keep all their loot safe from the unwashed masses. Again, take a look at Mexico and the ridiculous amount of security and bodyguards anyone with money spends on there. It all ties back into the conservative mindset of being absolutely terrified of anything that makes them look weak. Compassion = weak, so fuck poor people. Military/police = things you can do a lot of tough chest thump woofing over so it makes you strong. Billions for the military, not a cent for social programs. Millions for the drug war, not $100k for a rehab center.

    I swear, everyone crying out for deregulation and “smaller government” (whatever that means) would honestly be happy with a return to robber barons, Pinkerton strike breakers, and early industrial age Dickins’ London. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the tea party crowd is old enough to be cranky, but not old enough to remember that era or the great depression.

  • 7. Necronomic.JustIce  |  March 17th, 2010 at 1:58 am

    @54 “dubai is not that libertarian-capitalist,”

    It’s as close as you can get to functioning LibCap. A Monarch (absolute property rights) who acts and thinks like a CEO instead of a Lord.

    “it’s a totalitarian dictatorship that infringes basic human rights.”

    Sounds like the LibCap ideal to me.

    “And don’t link me to that keynesian soothsayer Davis.”

    Mike Davis is a Socialist and not a Keynesian. Please tell me you know the difference?

  • 8. Lobo Zeta  |  March 17th, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Hillbilly Central. Todo el puto CS área metropolitana apesta. And you can take that to the bank.

  • 9. FrankMcG  |  March 17th, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Gather up the cops. Round up people who can’t afford a home and drive them off your manicured lawns.

    WWJD indeed.

  • 10. Mrscbull  |  March 20th, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Sounds like Colorado Springs has a problem. In God’s Conservative Country they should be the God giving people they claim to be and open those nice church doors & let the homeless in and help them – find jobs, housing, food & etc. Isn’t that what Christian people do? Or is Colorado Springs just a vain superficial place that I have always heard it was?

  • 11. françoise  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 6:17 am

    what the heck. were there always this many lolbs on the exiled?

  • 12. blargh  |  March 24th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Frank you spout your feel good populist nonsense that has no actual real world examples of working and denounce a model that has built modern civilization.

    Libertarians want no fucking robber barons. We want the exact opposite. A constitution enforced. You’re all so enamoured by your phony economic models that you don’t see reality.

    Dickensian corporate practices were government sponsored for fucks sake! Victorian british empire is what you think libertarians want? What the fuck do they tell you guys?

    You just talk inanely about borderline psychotic bullshit, how libertarians want to drink the blood of orphans. You do not address any actual facts. You’re just an ideologue.

    Also that 10k US the government takes is not “forked out” it’s fucking TAKEN BY FORCE. So yeah I expect 10000 USD worth of stuff in return IMMEDIETLY. Because whenever I pay someone money that’s what fucking happens.

    “I’m sure we’ve all known friends or loved ones who would have been out on their ass if they didn’t have unemployment covering them while they tried to get back on their feet. Would you rather they become homeless so a billionaire Lockheed shareholder can ferret his tax break to Cayman accounts?”

    They could live with me. It’s always someone else that has to do the good stuff for you leftists, right? Never YOU. You helping your friend/loved one directly never even fucking crossed your mind. “But I can’t afford it!” Well then how could I afford it? How could half a nation afford it for the other half?

    Or do you think that things change when the scale gets larger? Does value magical sprout from the ground at Obama’s command? All that changes is the TIME it takes to realise you can’t afford it. As america is about to find out with medicare. Thanks Lyndon B Johnson. Eversince that guy has delcared “war on poverty” americans have been getting poorer and poorer. Excellent work.

    The facts on the ground are against any socialism and support libertarianism. Try to refute that. Point me to a socialist model that has benefited anything ever. Cmon just bust out Sweden.

  • 13. Bill Rush  |  April 1st, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    I like Colorado. It’s where Hunter S. Thompson lived.

  • 14. inthemiddle  |  April 2nd, 2010 at 3:53 am

    You’re all a bunch of idiots arguing political claptrap offered by GAYBC or FOX while this culrure collapses.

    Can you think straight?

  • 15. atr  |  April 2nd, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Lived in the Springs for 5 years. This article is dead-on 100% accurate. I echo the thanks of others for writing it.

  • 16. vic stotter  |  April 3rd, 2010 at 6:54 am

    I lived in the Springs from mid-70s to 2001, when I finally was able financially to escape. Reading the article brought back all the bad feeling I used to have about the so-called “Christian” conservatives that took over that formerly beutiful town.

    I prefer christians [small c is deliberate, as they are christian the way Jesus was, love thy neighbor as thyself, etc.] Even Muslims who observe the “five pillars” of their faith e.g., sheltering strangers, giving alms, etc. seem more christian than so many of the “religious” right.

    I still have family and friends in the Springs but I hate going there to visit. It’s so sad.

  • 17. Reamer  |  April 6th, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    RE: 64. inthemiddle

    What else can we do? We fiddle as Rome burns, since there’s nothing else we can do. Hopefully people will start humming along…

  • 18. Betty  |  April 21st, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Oh man, I just got here from Austin. I had hoped I had picked a sister city. I saw several Unitarian Churches and thought I’d be safe.

    Great article. Let me know when I can come out of the broom closet.

  • 19. LtheOne  |  May 11th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    So…what happened with the conservative cutie?

  • 20. Reality Check  |  July 13th, 2010 at 12:33 am

    Better wake up! Your still racing down the highway to hell. Live ready! Eternity happens and it is a choice. I hope that you and Jesus get it ALL worked out! Only He can cancel your burn!

  • 21. Doing my time  |  September 19th, 2010 at 10:24 am

    I was stationed in Colorado for two and a half years, and this post only reminds me how much I long to return. I only pray that The Springs is future of America!

  • 22. Anathame  |  July 4th, 2011 at 3:03 am

    I did my whole hitch in the Army at Fort Carson, and nothing has changed. Terrible people preach the word of their lord, then go out and try to fuck as many people as possible. They try to say they are good Christians, but since when has a good Christian ever participated in such depravity? It seems as if they worship Slaanesh, and look it up, it might be a made up god but it is scarily accurate to the modern “Christian”

    It’s a microcosm of America, in one little state.

  • 23. Bob Powell  |  October 6th, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Good article. Add to the “Christian problem” it’s libertarian as well. The combination is a recipe for economic stagnation.

    See Colorado Springs: A Broken Region, 10/26/10. While it’s true that Colorado Springs government is broken, it’s worse than that. The whole region is broken; its policies are structurally unsound. Here’s why:

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