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can be read as a part of Ta-Ta, London. Hello, Awesome., written by Sarah Lyall, who spent 18 years in the UK as a correspondent of sorts for the New York Times.

Several paragraphs jumped out at me:

And so a country where even Conservatives are proud of the nationalized health service cannot comprehend a system that leaves tens of millions of people unable to afford basic health care. A country that all but banned guns after the slaughter of 16 small children in Scotland in 1996 cannot understand why some Americans’ response to mass shootings is to argue for more gun rights, not fewer.

Despite the sometimes immature behavior of Britain’s legislators, they manage to enact laws without deliberately obstructing the running of the country. Britons are perplexed by the sclerotic hatred infecting so much political discourse in America. And not one Briton I ever met understood why being able to see Russia from Alaska was at one time apparently considered an acceptable foreign-policy credential for a prospective vice president.

I will let the remarks about a functioning legislature and attitudes towards Sarah Palin pass with much commentary, except to note that a simple majority in Commons is usually sufficient to enact anything the majority wants - no real problems with either a bi-cameral set-up or the ability to block by filibuster or other delaying mechanism.

But I want to comment on both health care and guns.

First, on health care.   This disbelief about what we do in this country is not limited to the UK.  Canada also has a national health care program.  My wife has a number of Canadian relatives (descended from someone who went to Canada at the time of our Revolution - her mother's father was born there).  She has twice helped organize extended family reunions on Prince Edward Island.  One thing she noted is while some of her Canadian kin are very conservative politically, they all supported the health care system, and had trouble understanding the way we do things.

On guns -  we do need to remember that the Bobbies - ordinary cops in Britain - are not armed.  The ability to move as quickly as they did is because the attitude towards guns was very different.  They do not have the distorted tradition we do, which in our case includes the cowboy culture, and some distorted understandings about gun ownership in colonial times.

But it is worth noting that there are cultures with stronger traditions about ownership of guns that either do not have the kinds frequent occurrences of mass shooting that we do (Canada, for example) or which have after a mass shooting moved to better control gun ownership  (Australia).

We have a sense of "superiority" because we are Americans, something which at a minimum bemuses those in other nations, and sometimes angers them because of our national arrogance.  

After all, if we are so superior,

- why do we have so much - and ever increasing - economic inequality?

- why do so many people lack access to health care?

-  why do so many Americans die from guns?

-  why have we seen unions being less influential?

-  why do we not have sick pay?

-  why are our vacations so short?

-  why do we burden those who go on to higher education with crushing debt burdens?

Or in short, why are we so unwilling to learn from the experiences of other nations, experiences that could lead to a better life for millions of Americans?

Just a thought or so.

And tomorrow I officially report to my new school, although I was already there for parts of four days last week.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (25+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 06:35:37 AM PDT

  •  My wife is British (8+ / 0-)

    This I can tell you - The US Democrats would be a considered a conservative party over there and the US Republicans would be closer to the real right-wingers like the BNP and EDL.

    Bar the Greens, there are no real Leftists in America.

  •  We're Not a Nation, We're a Market. (12+ / 0-)

    Which is the simplest answer to all the questions you pose.

    Occam's a bitch.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 06:47:50 AM PDT

  •  Superiority is really a cover for a gross (3+ / 0-)

    inferiority complex, which may well be engendered by a punitive culture of obedience. Also, people have guns to make them feel more secure, which means they are feeling insecure.
    With rights. Why shouldn't people feel insecure when, in order to get anywhere, they have to own and get into an infernal machine that kills 38,000 a year and leaves many more maimed? Why shouldn't they feel insecure when they know for certain that any illness can put them in hock for decades, if it doesn't kill them? Why shouldn't they feel insecure when the President of the country tells them working 'round the clock at three jobs is good and their neighbors aim for them to die quickly?

  •  Sorry to tell you, but I think (0+ / 0-)

    you could include Germans with regards to healthcare, gun culture and probably for those who have a bit more insights to the US educational (over $20,000.00 for a public university in tuition fees is imo anything else but democratic) and electoral system.

    I know it's harder to accept that from a German  than from any national of any other country, but in my generation at least I think you find many Germans, who just can't believe why the US works the way it does (ie mostly not good for the average citizen).

    "Im Land der Schatten ist die Wahrheit eine Lüge"

    by mimi on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 07:36:34 AM PDT

  •  It's the things England has, and things it lacks (5+ / 0-)

    Unlike America, they can't pretend they don't have an aristocracy or a class structure in their society.

    They don't have a Horatio Alger mythology.

    They can't pretend their government has never engaged in imperialism and colonialism.

    They can't pretend that they don't have to pay attention to what happens in the rest of the world.

    They can't pretend they arose ab initio as something the world had never seen before (AKA American Exceptionalism) - they have too much history.

    Their national fixation on weaponry isn't locked into firearms - more things like the longbow, Excalibur, the Spitfire.

    They can't pretend they have to have a military that makes them sole policeman to the world.

    They can't pretend they have all the energy they need if they just get government regulators and environmentalists out of the way.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 07:45:18 AM PDT

    •  My experience there as a student in the 1980s (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, ER Doc

      led me to believe that they did pretend that they didn't have systematic, structural, institutional racism. Sure, everyone understands the National Front is white supremist, but average people actually didn't believe there was pervasive racism in the culture.

      Of course, that was just my personal experience from 30 years ago, so I could easily be wrong, or things could have changed. ;-)

    •  In regards to your fourth point, the Brits (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      reputation in the most of the rest of Western Europe is that they truly don't give a shit about the rest of the world. Having lived here for 2 decades, its a deserved reputation, although they aren't nearly as bad about this as Americans.

      One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and we all take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine and no change in our regulation of guns. --- John Oliver

      by voroki on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 11:21:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Perhaps - but... (0+ / 0-)

        The English Channel isn't anywhere near the barriers we take for granted like the Atlantic and the Pacific.

        Plus, the consequences of their former empire has an effect in the number and variety of immigrants they have to deal with, from around the world.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 11:49:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The Brits might be more polite (5+ / 0-)

    about politics; people I know generally don't speak of it in mixed company or outside their home, partly because party membership runs around 3% of the population. The Tories are nowhere near as rabid as the average Tea Party flak like Ted Cruz. However, our NHS is being disassembled and sold off to private enterprise just as surely as Thatcher sold off the railroads. The Coalition has eviscerated the social safety net, homelessness and food poverty are increasing, and people with terminal cancer and serious physical and mental disabilities are being judged fit for work. The people who protest about this (sometimes 500,000 strong) walk through streets lined with police holding formidable automatic weaponry. The police also 'kettle' people by driving them into a small space and holding them there for many hours. Sometimes protesters are run down by mounted police. I have seen all of this happen personally.
    The recession, inflation, and austerity have produced a 15-20% drop in real income. Like the Democrats, the Labour party seems aimless and indecisive. Under the somewhat more civilised skin, our problems are remarkably similar.

    Each person stands on a shadow. Bill Reynolds

    by northsylvania on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 07:52:37 AM PDT

    •  Thank you for this. (4+ / 0-)

      "Austerity" has held sway there for decades. Thatcher was a monster, and began the dismantling 30 years ago. When I lived in London in the 80s, there was ONE homeless person in my neighborhood: an elderly lady who carried a little teapot around with her and stopped at all the neighborhood homes to get some tea and food. She must have slept in the back gardens of the squares there (many had unlocked gates).

      The devil was on her heels, and she couldn't live indoors. So she didn't. Everyone else on the edge seemed to have a council flat.

      Of course, my experience isn't definitive and I was just a student. But compared to homelessness at that time in my hometown (Los Angeles) and my college town (Northampton), homelessness seemed to be a surprisingly small problem for one of the world's great metropolises. That's not to say that council estates were well-managed, pleasant or safe (they weren't; many of my friends lived in them), but they were homes.

      Flash forward 1994. People living in box cities underneath all the bridges across the Thames. I could not believe my eyes. My heart broke. Council flats sold off (because the Borough was now fashionable, along with most of the South Bank). Of course, the GLC was dismantled when I was living there. That, of course, was just the beginning.

      London Underground "privatized." No more British Rail. And the list goes on.

      At least there, they have a larger social safety net to dismantle. It will take longer.

  •  South Africa is also a gun nation (7+ / 0-)

    with a very high crime rate.

    I noted that the US and South Africa have similar backgrounds----we both forged our national identity in a series of bitter wars with England, we both consisted of city settlements along the seacoast with a huge resource-rich interior, we both migrated into that interior and exterminated the less-technological natives there, and the wagon and the gun are our national symbols of a largely-false national mythology of rugged individualism and independence which we still celebrate today.

  •  why (0+ / 0-)

    We were always a shitty country--slavery, of course--dirty rotten most foul.  Then always hating the newest immigrants--be they Irish, Italian, Jewish, Latino, Caribbean, African,...  We instigated a colonial war against Mexico.  We made believe we didn't know about the holocaust.  We invaded Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan because we had "god and democracy" on our side.  
    We are a success only when it comes to economics--because we had abundant natural resources and abundant immigrants.  We ain't got either anymore.  Our health care system for the poor is the poorest.  Our teachers are demonized.  Our bankers fleece the whole world.
    Why--The first thing I mentioned was slavery--we are bigoted.  We began life killing off the natives--and have continued along that same immoral path.

    Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite. John Kenneth Galbraith .

    by melvynny on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 08:17:36 AM PDT

  •  When it comes to guns; (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc

    Great Britain has a long history of firearms, hunting & weapons being solely for the nobility/aristocracy, whereas in the US firearms & hunting have been associated with the working & lower classes.
    After all, GB still has their Head of State decided by heredity.
    Such a thing is unimaginable in the US.

    Further, GB had a registry. So when the powers that be decided that essentially all firearms were to be confiscated it was a simple thing to do.
    Here in the US, we have been able to learn from their mistakes.

    Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.

    by FrankRose on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 09:43:36 AM PDT

  •  How other countries do things (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Fareed Zakaria did an interesting piece on GPS this morning, essentially taken from his WaPo op-ed earlier this week.

    For more than a decade, it has been documented that Northern European countries do better at moving poor people up the ladder than the United States does. Some have dismissed these findings, pointing out that the United States cannot be compared with places such as Denmark, an ethnically homogeneous country of 5.5 million people. But Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa points out in his contribution to the Journal of Economic Perspectives that Canada is a very useful point of comparison, being much like the United States. (The percentage of foreign-born Canadians is actually higher than the percentage of foreign-born Americans, for example.) And recent research finds that people in Canada and Australia have twice the economic mobility of Americans. (The British are about the same as Americans but much worse than Canadians and Australians. )

    He outlines, from the reports he's citing, three factors that make a difference; social capital, city design, and public policy. His prescription for the most immediate results is in the latter, through support for education and other programs for children and families.

    In any event, what’s apparent is that countries — and most parts of the United States — that invest heavily in all their children’s health care, nutrition and education end up with a much stronger ladder of opportunity and access. And that’s something we can change. So if we want to restore the American dream, we now have the beginnings of a path forward.

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 12:09:18 PM PDT

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