BRITS VS YANKS: Government (Shutdown)

As we look across the pond at the government shut-down in the US, I suspect many here are wondering how the heck this could happen (and trust me, many back home are thinking the same thing). As similar as our democratic systems are, it points to the striking differences between how our governments operate. Whose is better?

To start with, Brits vote for a party. Americans vote for a person (be it a Senator or Congressman or President). So in the US, you can have a ballot where you vote for your local Republican congressman because you like his/her policies, but you can tick a Democratic President on the ballot for the same reason.

As you vote for a party in the UK, once the counting is down, the party with the most votes and seats comes into power and the head of the party becomes Prime Minister.  Done and dusted. That means that for the next 5 years, the party and Prime Minister that were voted into power control the government, the policies, the budget, etc. They set the agenda. That’s it, and if you don’t like it, you can vote differently in the next elections.  (We’ll save coalition governments for another day.)

In the U.S., we have this thing called “checks and balances” or as some in D.C. call it “quagmire” :-).  Because you can vote individually and NOT down party lines means you can end up in any given election year where you’ve elected a Democratic President, the House is controlled by Dems, but the Senate is controlled by Republicans or any similar confusing permutation (to recap, our lower house or Congress is similar to your MPs, and our upper house or Senate is similar to your Lords).

So as a result of this system, where no one entity has too much power (the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in the US are clearly separated and defined), our Congress and Senate and President end up bickering a lot. And since they cannot agree on many things, they end up in stalemates.

Enter Government Shutdown.  Because one party (in this case the Democrats) could not agree on the budget the President and his party (the Republicans) put forth, and since the budget needs to be approved by both the House and then the Senate, the deadline came and went without consensus.

In the U.K., this just doesn’t happen.  There is little recourse if you don’t like the budget conservatives (ruling party right now) put into place, except to protest with your local reps or vote differently in the next election.  Acceptance and move on.

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However, you should see Budget Day here! It was nothing short of a royal wedding coverage. It’s absolutely fantastic (for policy wonks and geeks)! There are helicopters hovering over the black car carrying the famous “Red Box” that is attached to the UK Treasurer as he leaves 10 Downing and heads to Parliament to read out the new budget. Budget Day last fall was November 22nd and the BBC (and other networks) had a 4-hour special breaking into their regular news programming to carry the speech live and then go into extensive analysis with experts, followed by immediate feedback with citizens across the country.  Four hours! Live TV! On the national budget!!

But this doesn’t happen in the U.S.  The two sides go into their corners and negotiations are heated. The shutdown this time has become even more politicised than before. Thanks to this President, it’s vicious and nasty. The message you hear when you call the White House says calls cannot be answered because the Democrats are holding government funding “hostage”. (Listen here). And this irresponsible and erroneous ad has been approved of by the President, contrary to what the White House press secretary recently said.

Many are affected by the shutdown, but the scaremongering the President has attached to “our nation’s security” and not being able to “pay the troops” is overblown and misunderstood. This piece by Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling explains exactly what happens in a government shutdown to the military and why. As he’s been in command when this has happened before, I suspect he has a better handle on it than the President.

And the issues they are squabbling over are extensive but at this point it boils down to DACA (Dreamers, the children who came illegally to the US to stay and work or study and allowed to stay b/c of a law Obama put into place in 2012), border security, children health insurance, and spending and investment.  This has happened in the past (Monica ended up roaming the halls of a fairly empty West Wing during the Clinton White House because of a government shutdown, and we all know how that ended). But in every instance, it takes compromise on both sides of the negotiation.

This President touts himself as being a tough negotiator, a “dealmaker”.  In this case, I’m glad the Democrats are digging their heels in, but getting to this point doesn’t help anyone, and I fear the President and his pride will be determined to win this. And the American people are already turned off by Washington. 80% of Americans polled in 2017 say they disapprove of the way Congress handles their job (Gallup). No surprise there.

I’m not sure which is better. I do like being able to vote for the individual rather than the party. I do like the theory of checks and balances but it just doesn’t seem to work well in practice.

Alternatively, I’m not sure having a fait accompli is good either. However, without the option to change policies halfway through an administration, I think it becomes that much more incumbent for the sitting administration to get things right.  If they don’t, they’ll be voted out at the next chance. They have one shot and have to make it work.  Let’s hope the Dems and Reps in Washington can do the same thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LUMIERE LONDON!

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For anyone who happens to be in the City this weekend, you cannot miss this. I am heading down on Sunday night, but a friend went last night and thought I’d share some photos:  Lumiere London

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My husband and I saw some “Son et Lumieres” Shows in France on our honeymoon years ago, but still remember what a beautiful spectacle it is, especially as they light up beautiful, centuries old buildings. But London has added so many other aspects to this show, and modernised it in an interactive way. See the photos below. You can go to different parts of the city for different routes and exhibits. Download the app and it will guide you to the different exhibits. Enjoy!!

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LITTLE LONDON SURPRISES

London can be a very cold, harsh, unfriendly and unforgiving city.  As much as I love it here, there are days when it really does try the toughest of spirits. But as we close out 2017, I can’t help but think of the small acts of kindness, the little gems that occur on a daily basis, the serendipitous events that unfold around this cavernous, brilliant, bustling metropolis. You just have to look.

To start with, there is the “driver’s etiquette”.  This is true country-wide but it’s really a sight to behold in the throngs of London traffic. Perhaps it’s the English tendency to queue politely for everything and anything, but even at the height of rush-hour and impatience, you will see the “zipper system” working efficiently. When two-lanes merge into one, everyone waits for each other and it’s the exception to the rule when someone jumps ahead. Likewise, at 4-way stops, it’s a polite “after you” indication that occurs (to the point that sometimes I wonder if anyone will go!).

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But my favourite is “the wave” and the blinkers “thank you” afterwards. Anywhere in London (and the UK), when someone is switching lanes ahead of you or you need to let the car in, or if a vehicle is turning into your lane from a left or right intersection (junction), you slow down with hands on the wheel and give them the one-handed wave — an indication that it’s ok to go.  Once the car moves in ahead of you,  he or she then “thanks” you by putting their blinkers/hazards on briefly. If two cars are at a face-off on a narrow street where only one can pass through, one will blink the headlights which is an indication that you should go ahead. Once you pass, you give “the wave” as thanks. It’s an absolutely brilliant system that works seamlessly in most cases.  Cars, busses, trucks, lorries, everyone does it.  When I go home now to the States, I find the driving unbelievably aggressive and self-righteous. Everyone just assumes that they are King of the Road and deserves to squeeze in ahead of everyone else. Very unbecoming.

Another present delivered itself to me in a complete stranger’s act of kindness. My girlfriends and I were doing a long 12 mile walk in preparation for a charity event one summer.  We started out in Chiswick, went along the Tow Path to Putney Bridge, turned up the south side of the river past Hammersmith and Barnes and up to Kew Bridge. As we were nearing the end of the walk, I realised I had somewhere along the way dropped my iPhone (don’t ask me how – it’s a bad habit). One of my girlfriends rang it and a lovely man answered. “Oh, excellent, you called! I was hoping you would. I have it here on my desk at work. I went out for a run at lunchtime and saw it on the Tow Path near Hammersmith Bridge and thought if that was my iPhone I would want someone to pick it up for me. So I did!” I know. Very lucky. But floored that in a city 10 million strong and geographically massive, some good samaritan went through the trouble to retrieve it and take care of it until I had called.

There are many others – a plumber who came to fix a problem with the sink who wouldn’t charge me because, as he said in his very East Laahhndon accent “This was too easy to fix. Took only 10 minutes and no parts. No worries”. Or a barista at Starbucks who ran after me when I left some cash on the counter.  Or a Sainsbury employee who picked up my parking card when I dropped it. Just yesterday, I dropped my reading glasses somewhere in one of the aisles, only to find them already at the Lost and Found when I got to the till and realised I didn’t have them. (Yes, I drop things a lot!)

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However, my last little miracle has a slightly different twist. When we first arrived here, we didn’t have a car and took busses everywhere. Our 6 yr old had gymnastics near Chiswick Bridge. We hopped on the 190 bus heading into London, got off at the bus stop, went into the club where she changed into her gymnastics outfit and I sat in the coffee area with the other parents.

She had an absolutely favourite grey cardigan sweater (jumper) that she adored, and given we had only been in the country for 5 weeks and we didn’t even have our furniture yet, I understood her attachment to things…as permanency was something she was unaccustomed to. She wore it everywhere.  She definitely had the sweater whilst on the bus on the way there, however, after she finished and changed again, we couldn’t find it.

I was torn — I know how topsy-turvy her life had been in the past 2 months, but I felt it was time to instill the lesson of holding onto things that are important to you. I was stern when we realised she had left it on the bus. “This is what happens when you don’t take care of things.” She was wailing. “This is an important lesson to learn, sweetheart. That sweater is gone. You will never – ever – see it again. I’m really sorry but you should have taken better care of it.” As we walked back to the bus stop the sobbing continued. “Mummy, can’t we ask the bus driver to find it? Can’t we call the bus company?” “It’s gone, sweetie. If you leave it somewhere, you will lose it. That bus has gone into the city now.” I really felt bad for her – she was only just six. But I thought to myself “she’ll never lose anything ever again.” Lesson learned. I was a bit cross and stood fast.

A 190 bus pulled up heading westbound towards home and we hopped on. I’ll be damned if that little sweater wasn’t sitting right there on the seat where she left it!!  I couldn’t believe it. The gymnastics lesson was an hour and a half. Plus changing time and the walk, we probably got off that bus about 2 hours earlier. What are the chances the exact same bus would be coming back on his route as we got on!? And even slimmer odds that the sweater would still be sitting forlornly there waiting for her. Of course, my lesson was utterly and completely lost at this point. “Look, Mommy! Here it is!! It came back to me!”

It was a long time before she realised that anything she loses doesn’t miraculously return to her. But I still laugh at this story — only in London.

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