Just got back from an event-filled two-plus weeks in the UK and I though I should share a few thoughts and impressions.
We visited briefly in Edinburgh, Scotland, London, Exeter and Oxford, the ancient university town where our daughter Ariel was graduating with a DPhil in Education — the primary purpose of our visit.
The first thing that struck me coming strait from the States was the scarcity of clearly overweight people. Sure you see a few, but not the huge number of really dangerously overweight people one sees everyday in the US, where bad food products are shamelessly pushed like addictive drugs. Perusing the supermarkets in Britain, it’s clear why this is so: the shelves aren’t bulging with oversized boxes of sugared cereal, potato chips, corn ships and other amalgams of starch, sugars and fats of all types, or aisles full of sweets.
Restaurant meals also offer normal sized portions, not huge quantities of foot that beckon guests to eat until they can’t stand up easily as in all too many US establishments.
The second thing I noticed — even outside of London — was a wide array of newspapers, ranging from junk like the Sun and the Daily Mail to serious journals of the center right like the Financial Times and the Times to left-leaning papers like the Guardian and the Independent. And people actually read the things.
Back in Philadelphia, the two options are the Inquirer and the Daily News, both desiccated shadows of their former selves and owned by the same publisher. If you’re lucky, and are near Center City, you might also find on newsstands a few copies of the NY Times and maybe even a Wall Street Journal, but don’t count on it.
The political scene, meanwhile, bears some small, superficial resemblance to the US at the moment, with a dysfunctional conservative government in power, and a leftist “resistance” in the wings, but that’s where all similarity ends.
In the US, the “resistance” is largely an illusion–really a kind of Democratic Party “rebranding” project. On the one hand you have the Democratic Party establishment, led these days by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a bought-and-paid lackey of the Wall Street banking industry, whose claim to fame is so far keeping his Senate colleagues in line voting as a bloc against every attempt by Senate Republicans to undo Obamacare. On the other hand, there’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who had the Democratic nomination stolen from him by the unprincipled machinations of that Democratic Party establishment during last year’s primary campaign. Sanders, recall, as many had predicted, folded up his battle tent at the end of that manipulated primary contest and meekly endorsed the corrupt winner, Hillary Clinton. Since then he has been talking up his “political revolution,” but has yet to even lay out an alternative “single-payer” Medicare-for-All plan to counter Republicans and Trump and their schemes to steal what little health coverage poorer Americans have now, much less demand that Congressional Democrats stop fudging and commit to health care as a right, and to enacting a Canadian-style system that covers everyone.
Over in Britain, there’s Jeremy Corbyn, an unapologetic left-wing Labour member of parliament often wrongly portrayed in the US media as a British Bernie Sanders clone. They may both have gray hair and share a youthful history of civil rights and anti-war activism, but the similarities stop there. For one thing, Corbyn never stopped being an anti-war activist. Even during the heat of a bitterly fought parliamentary election campaign in June he never pandered to fear— even in the wake of a terrorist bombing of a huge youth concert in Manchester — or stopped calling for a halt to British military adventurism and blind support for US military actions, and for an end to military sales to tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia. (Sanders was calling for the US to work with Saudi Arabia and other dictatorial Arab regimes to challenge both Assad and ISIS).
Also different from Sanders is Corbyn’s and his movement’s strategy after losing to the Conservatives on June 8 (while stunningly denying the Conservatives a working parliamentary majority). Since then Corbyn has been visiting and campaigning in each closely contested parliamentary district across the UK, in preparation for what is likely to be a new election before year’s end. Not surprisingly, Corbyn, who as recently as last April was being mocked and derided, much like Sanders, in the establishment media, as an out of touch throwback to the ‘60s and ‘70s era, is viewed more favorably than PM Theresa May or any of her likely Conservative Party successors. His party, now rebranded as socialist again, not the so-called “New Labour” neoliberal party it was under war criminal Tony Blair, is being touted as likely to win in any coming national election contest.
The focus of Corbyn’s and the Labour Party’s campaigning at this point is not simply attacking May and the Conservatives, but rather involves laying out a new vision for a future Labour government — one that will re-fund the hugely popular but financially starved National Health Service, end college tuition and perhaps reduce the debt burden of already graduated students, restore funding for local police, resist and undo civil liberties-threatening legislation, improve funding for local education, renationalize the rail system, and end Britain’s slavish acquiescence in backing US militarist foreign policy.
Contrast that with the obsessively negative anti-Trump, anti-Republican focus of the so-called “resistance” movement and of Sanders’ so-called “political revolution” in the US.
There are plenty of Corbyn critics in the UK, including among disgruntled neoliberal Labourites who feel their party has been stolen away from them, but no one in the UK can have any doubt about what the revitalized Labour Party and its standard-bearer, “Prime-Minister-in-Waiting” Jeremy Corbyn, stand for.
Can anyone in the US honestly say that about the Democratic Party, or even, for that matter, about its still most popular would-be presidential contender, Bernie Sanders? I know I can’t. The latest Democratic Party statement about its goals, called “A Better Deal for Workers,” sounds as bland as milquetoast and could have been written by Hillary Clinton. I mean seriously, it’s just a call for higher pay for workers, lower costs by negotiating, finally, for lower drug prices, a revived anti-trust effort and tax credits to business for retraining laid-off workers. Not even a mention of restoring the decimated the right of workers to form unions and to negotiate contracts without endless delays and unpunished labor law violations by management.
Meanwhile Sanders hasn’t even come out against the Democrats’ continual obsession with the baseless claim that Russians hacked the DNC and helped elect Trump. And I can’t tell you what his position is on NATO expansion up to Russia’s borders, or Trump’s brinksmanship in the South China Sea, because Sanders has said nothing. Nor has Sanders said a word about ending US militarism abroad or cutting military spending significantly —only about “cutting waste” — something any Republican could say too.
Finally a word about health care differences.
While in the UK, I began to feel short of breath on exertion — a scary and unfamiliar condition that worsened markedly over the week. Eventually I went to a doctor who arranged for me to go to an ambulatory ward at the local National Health Service facility, John Radcliffe Hospital. There, with no financial biopsy required before admission, I was seen by a string of excellent, caring and patient doctors, including pulmonary and cardiac specialists, given a battery of blood tests, an Xray, CT-Scan and echocardiogram, and diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
I was also successfully treated for a low blood oxygen level that I was told prevented me from safely flying home, and five days later was able to do so, in order to be treated in the US by doctors covered by my Blue Cross insurance plan.
No one at the NHS made me pay a penny before I left the hospital. I may eventually get a bill, as I was advised that Blue Cross “probably won’t” reimburse the facility for all they did because “we don’t have codes for procedures or for doctors.” (The NHS just has a per day charge, which for Blue Cross in the US, which is used to hospitals charging for every aspirin, simply doesn’t compute.) But I’m told my bill will be “not be that much” since, as a tourist suffering an emergency, I will be charged as would a British resident on the NHS.
I’ll say this about my experience with the NHS: my American doctors, both excellent, say my treatment in the UK was stellar, something you cannot always say about care in the US — especially if you’re poor or, god forbid, uninsured. But according to 2016 OECD statistics, Britain pays $3900 per person for that level health care, which everyone has access to for free, while we in the US spends $9000 per person, and tens of millions of us can’t even get access to it.
And now our government is trying mightily to take medical coverage away from 20-30 million more of us…and still there’s no real revolution so far.
(Note: I am being assured that my condition is treatable, that my basic health is good, and that I should be back in good shape after a program of recovery is set up.)