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Good News: The United States Still Isn't a Failed State

Yes, the U.S. government shutdown is equal parts embarrassing and infuriating. Yes, it is putting the kibosh on services as basic as food programs and flu shots. But no, the United States is still not a failed state, much as many people seem to be enjoying asking the question --at least not according to the judgment of the folks at the Fund for Peace, who put together the annual Failed States Index in collaboration with FP.

The United States currently ranks a solidly not-failed 159th out of 178 states on the Fund's annual index, which orders countries based on how they score across 12 indicators, and it would take a big hit to push America into failed territory.

The shutdown, depending on how long it goes on, could cause the United States to at least rise a few spots in next year's rankings (the higher the ranking, the more instability). Congress's inability to agree on a spending plan has consequences for several indicators of "failedness" where the U.S. has already not been faring too well of late, Krista Hendry, executive director of the Fund, told FP. It's a demonstration of an increasingly factionalized elite, it leads directly to a deterioration of public services, and it doesn't exactly do the economy any favors, or strengthen perceptions about the legitimacy of the state.

But hey, we have a lot going for us! General rule of law holds -- federal courts are still hearing cases, and prison guards are still on the job. Essential services have been preserved; mail, for instance, is still being delivered. Our federalized system means states are still capable of running their own schools and hospitals without federal aid.

"We still have air-traffic controllers in the towers, we still have military that are on call and as ready as they were yesterday. Essential services are all still going to function," said Failed States Index Co-Director J.J. Messner.

And perhaps most importantly, Americans expect that the shutdown will be resolved, and that the U.S. government will eventually return to normal, Hendry explained.

So cheer up, America: You remain a functional state. Just make sure to raise that debt ceiling.

Tom Ervin/Getty Images

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The World Isn't Sure What to Make of Ted Cruz: the 'Man Who Blocked America'

As the world has turned its gaze to the U.S. government shutdown -- what the Russian news service RT has called "the harebrained antics of Congress," and Germany's Der Spiegel has attributed to the actions of "Die Kamikaze Partei," the paper's touching moniker for Republicans -- many international news outlets, particularly in Europe, are homing in on the man who linked the debates over funding the government and defunding Obama's new health care law in the first place: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

The Republican lawmaker captured the U.S. media's attention last week with his 21-hour faux filibuster against Obamacare, but he's clearly made waves overseas as well. Just today, the French weekly Le Point ran a fascinating profile of Cruz under the headline, "Ted Cruz: The Man Who Blocked America."

For the statist French, Cruz, with his relentless calls for limited government, could be a creature from another planet. Noting that Cruz has been compared to Joseph McCarthy ("which is not a compliment"), Le Point's Washington correspondent, Hélène Vissière, writes that unlike the crusading anti-communist senator, Cruz, with his "pomaded hair and youthful appearance,"  fairs wonderfully on television, which he often "courts." Painting Cruz as arrogant and intransigent, the article claims that Cruz relies on "intimidation" to carry out a strategy of "systematic obstruction with no proposed changes except for the dismantling of government." Cruz, Vissière reports, "plays on the fear of his colleagues, terrorizing them that if they do not support him, they will lose their next elections."

Still, Europa, a newspaper associated with Italy's left-wing Democratic Party, wins for the most byzantine description of Cruz, managing to compare the U.S. politician to pop culture's most menacing clown and a Civil War commander in the same sentence. Cruz, "the General Custer of the Republican Battle of the Little Bighorn, is the equivalent of Heath Ledger who in the role of Joker tells Batman: "Do I seem to you like someone with a plan? I am an agent of chaos, I simply do things," offers Alessandro Carrera, an Italian professor at the University of Houston.

Over at Canada's National Post, Kelly McParland agrees but trots out a different pop culture reference, noting that for Cruz, like for Miley Cyrus, "making noise may be the plan." Fellow columnist Jonathan Kay, meanwhile, finds himself at a loss to describe the Calgary-born Cruz to Canadians. 

Government shutdowns, Kay explains, are impossible in Canada in part because crises in its parliamentary system are resolved by confidence votes and elections, and in part because Canadian lawmakers tend to vote with their party leaders. "There is no equivalent in any major Canadian political party to a man such as, say, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party hardliner who answers to no political authority except his own naked ambition, and who is more than willing to use the current crisis as a means to discredit his own party's leadership," he observes.

Mark Mardell, the BBC's North America editor, marvels at Cruz more than he criticizes him. Noting that the GOP legislator has embraced John McCain's dismissal of him as a "wacko bird," Mardell continues, "Reading Dr Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham from the floor of the Senate can only elevate him from Daffy Duck to Roadrunner in the esteem of his public admirers." "Many Americans," he adds, "think their politicians spout childish nonsense, but rarely have they actually revelled in doing so."

So there you have it: Viewed from afar, Ted Cruz is a cross between Joseph McCarthy, General Custer, the Joker, Miley Cyrus, and the Road Runner. Meet the man who blocked America.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images