Postcard From London

Coffee Shop Conversations: Is There Hope for America?

I am in London to work on my millennial-elder project. On Thursday I met and talked with four British college students at a Café Nero coffee shop.  All four are interested in and well read about US politics.  All four are baffled, wondering how a great democracy that thrilled the world with Obama’s election can tumble so far so fast. They are not sure if we will ever recover.

But the general sense I am getting from talking with various folks in the UK is that they have more hope in us then we have in ourselves. As a vacationing Canadian academic I met at a sidewalk cafe said, “The world covets American leadership. It seems that no matter how bad things might appear to be, America has always been a light that leads out of the darkness.”

When I asked how he could think this after our years of blundering through Iraq, Afghanistan and other skirmishes of choice––– and now by blundering in our domestic politics with the election of Trump–––he responded, “The redeeming thing about your country has always been your resilience. You recognize and acknowledge your faults, then turn onto a new path.

“After the Bush years you elected Obama, and despite a brutal assault on everything he tried to do, he made a positive mark internationally on issues of climate change and human rights. He confronted brutal dictators, and supported international cooperation and partnerships. He stood firm in repudiating the “American first and America alone” philosophy of his political opponents.

“Electing Trump was a huge setback for the U.S. and for the world. The question now is whether that disastrous mistake becomes a death march away from hope and into the darkness of isolation; or, a resurgence of your natural progressive spirit that will lead into the renewed light of hope.”

The British Press and US Politics

The Guardian’s Steven Thrasher wrote: “Six months into Donald Trump’s term, and Democratic politicians’ ability to be an opposition party is, in a word, pathetic. When the poll came out saying that “Democrats stand for nothing more than opposing” Trump, I thought to myself, ‘If only that were true!’

“But they can’t even do that well. When House Democratic Caucus chairman Joe Crowley was asked by the Associated Press just what his party’s core message was, he “hesitated” and then said, “That message is being worked on.”

Who Is to Blame for Obamacare repeal Failure?

Molly Kiniry writes an American Values column in The Sunday Telegraph. Today she wrote about the apparent demise of the Republican commitment to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). “Who is to blame” for the failure, she asks. “Some point to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader who failed to corral his party into backing an Obamacare replacement. Others say McConnell was left with an impossible task by Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who steered the bill through the lower chamber fully aware it would be dead-on-arrival in the Senate.

“But the sad truth is that this morass is no one’s fault. Rather, it is a symptom of a deeper disease in Washington. The modern two-party system prevents meaningful legislative action except in emergency situations. Individual politicians are so dependent on the party machine that none will break ranks, even if their constituents would benefit from bipartisan cooperation. Disloyalty to party can lead to swift retribution or an evaporation of funding.”

Later in her article she writes, “A failed healthcare system means sick children out of school, and missed cancer diagnoses. This is the sort of human misery which no responsible government should inflict upon its own people—and precisely the sort of indifference which has relegated the Republican Party to the pariah status among those concerned about the welfare of America’s poorest.”

 

 

The State of American Politics, 2017

 

PresidentsThe states and the people of America are no longer “united”. The country that pledged to be “one nation, indivisible” has become a polarized morass of contentious factions and competing interest groups.

Opposing sides have hardened into ideological opposites with seemingly disparate motives and goals. Rigid loyalty to a particular ideology (deeply ingrained on the political right and growing on the left) trumps the vision of the nation’s founders, a vision of a “more perfect union” formed to ensure the general welfare of the people. Continue reading “The State of American Politics, 2017”

Political Patronage Trumps Military Advice

Members of Congress continually harp at the president about following the advice of uniformed leaders when making decisions about the military. They, however, do not practice what they preach. The Pentagon opposes continued use of the A-10 “Warthog”, a close-air support jet. The Air Force wants to retire the “Warthog” by 2019 because it lacks the versatility of other aircraft. This would save $4.3 billion that could be used for higher priorities.

Did Members of Congress follow the advice they gave the president and support the wisdom of the military? No. An amendment was tacked on the defense funding bill that forbids the Pentagon from allocating any funds to “divest, retire, transfer or place in storage, or prepare to divest, retire, transfer or place in storage any A-10 aircraft.” It also prohibits the Pentagon from closing any unit that flies or is associated with the A-10. Congressman Ron Barber (D-Tucson, Arizona) led the effort.

Did Barber (who was a former colleague of mine in the Arizona Department of Economic Security) take this action based on his high level of experience and expertise in military affairs? No, he is trying to protect jobs at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and, not coincidently, trying to protect his own office in a tough election. Barber’s proposal passed the House 300-114 and now goes to the Senate, where Senator John McCain (R-AZ) awaits.

McCain is among the loudest (and often the most incoherent) of those who blast away at the president about following military advice in regard to military affairs. He is also one of the biggest supporters of the A-10.