Saturday, 7 February 2009

More New Bloggers...

I'd also like to welcome Susan Greenberg to the blog. Susan is a career journalist and editor who will be keeping an eye on the British perspective on all things Obama - from reactions by the local newsagent to statements by British politicians. She'll aim to give a sense, for those back home, of how Britons are reacting to the Obama Presidency, including linking us to relevant UK news articles and opeds.

Here's a brief bio of Susan:

Susan Greenberg has lived in the UK since childhood, but has used her absentee ballot for US elections since turning 18. After a long spell as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines and the web, she now teaches nonfiction writing at Roehampton University. Contributions to this blog are made in a personal capacity only.

That last bit goes for all of us, by the way!

Welcome New Bloggers!

Hello Blog Audience (Blogience?),

I am excited to say that we have two fabulous new guest bloggers who are going to start contributing to Obama London. As some of you may know, I asked for new contributors to the blog a few weeks back because I wanted to broaden out our efforts here.

So let's all give a big "Obama London" welcome, first of all to Veena Vasita.

Veena is going to write about a range of issues, but she will focus on issues of urban renewal and livable communities - one area where Americans Abroad often have a unique perspective given some of the important differences between European and American social and urban structures.

I'll introduce our other guest blogger, Susan Greenberg in a post shortly.

I'm delighted to have them both, and am grateful in advance to them for their contributions.


Friday, 6 February 2009

President Obama Speaks About the Stimulus

Well worth watching.

Great moments:

"I don't care if you're in hybrid or an SUV, if you're heading for a cliff it's time to change direction."

"This is not a game. This is not a contest for who's in power and who's up and who's down. These are your consituents. These are families that you know and you care about. I believe it is time to set aside some of the gamesmanship of this town and get something done."

It's not something we see from him very often, but I think President Obama is starting to get pissed off. Now, I admire the steadiness of his temper, and the largeness of character he shows by giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. But when it comes to Republicans sticking stubbornly by economic theories that have already failed - that economists agree won't work - in order to block a stimulus plan that CAN work, now is a good time to say: enough is enough.

Call your Senator. Tell them they need to help President Obama get Americans back to work.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The End of Tom Daschle's Nomination, the Beginning of the Health Care Debate

I think Tom Daschle did the honorable thing by withdrawing today from his nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Whether he did the RIGHT thing will be dependant upon whether, as he hopes, his withdrawal will end the distraction over his tax situation and allow us to move on to the important work of improving our health care system as an urgent priority. My fear, is that it will instead be the distraction that replaces real debate about how to make this change.

The need to fix our health care system is much bigger than any one person. Even Daschle. Even Obama. In the coming weeks and months keep your eyes on the opponents of reform: of they make their case based on an argument about health quality and economics, then fair enough - let's have that debate. But if they bring up Tom Daschle's taxes in lieu of an actual health care debate, we all need to cry foul.

UPDATE: I have just read this, and now am very sad.

while we can speculate about White House pressure, about the themes of transparency and double standards, about purity and hypocrisy, what may have trumped the chance that he could win was this: for two weeks, Daschle has spent most of his time in Boston, Massachusetts, and not preparing for the confirmation hearing; he has spent it with one of his four brothers who is desperately ill. Daschle is all South Dakota reserve, even in private. He is very sensitive to public opinion, and his public image has taken a major beating. He was portrayed as a tax delinquent, a guy who lived by a different set of standards. Before he decided to drop out, aides said that Daschle had not erected a steel barrier around him; he was sensitive to the public condemnation, and he was hurt by it.

As well as all the other things that our leaders are, they are also human beings. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this decision, clearly it will have been a very emotional one for Tom, all the more so since so many of his friends and former colleauges were prepared loyally to stand by him. Obama has a really good passage in The Audacity of Hope about the trauma of political life - the way your worst failures all happen in public in the glaring limelight. I'm feeling for Tom tonight, whatever the rights and wrongs may be.

Universal Healthcare: A Domestic Issue?

Despite the current kerfuffle over Tom Daschle’s tax problems, I have every hope and expectation that in the coming years, perhaps months, we will start to see a real effort by the administration to solve one of the most pressing crises currently facing the USA - rising health care costs and the rapid increase in the uninsured.

Equally inevitable is that as part of this process we will start to see Conservatives and obstructionists of all sorts piping up to demonise OTHER health care systems that currently have universal coverage. Ranting and raving about the supposed failures of European and Canadian systems seems to be the first club at hand when the opposition reaches tries to beat back any effort at reform. And this view is widely believed by the American public - in fact, my mom told recently that she is very concerned about the quality of health care if America adopts universal cover.

This is an area where I, and Americans Abroad generally, have a useful point of view. After all, many of us have lived under the US healthcare system AND under those supposedly disastrous European systems that folks back home seem to find so worrying. So, from a patient perspective what is better; European style of American style health cover?

Well, the first thing to say is that there is no such thing as “European style” health coverage - countries across the continent all have different delivery models for their universal health care programs. In Britain, somewhat unusually, we have a single institution - the National Health Service (NHS) - that delivers all public sector health care. Other countries, Germany for instance, have an insurance model whereby third party providers offer the health services, but ultimately they are all paid for out of a single pool of taxation.

In fact, virtually the only things the different health systems in Europe have in common with each other are:

1) They are much cheaper than the US system.

2) They cover everyone, or almost everyone.

3) They deliver a better quality of care.

Here in Britain, for instance, we spend about 8% of the country’s annual GDP on health care, compared to 15% in the US, and yet the overall health of the population is similar, with perhaps even a slight advantage for the UK. For that 8%, we cover every single person living in the UK (including immigrants, like me).

You will frequently hear people point out that in Britain there are often waiting times for many medical procedures - this is absolutely true and is indeed a serious problem relating to the limited resources of the NHS. They are required to make some difficult decisions about how to spend their limited funding, and this does mean that sometimes people don’t get care as quickly as they should. The system can definitely be improved.

However, remember that this is based on a spending only a little more than HALF what the US is spending on healthcare as a percent of GDP. If we were willing to spend an equivalent amount - 15%! - to what they are spending in the States, we could virtually eliminate waiting times and many other inherent imperfections in the current system.

That is not to say that an NHS style system is right for the USA - I don’t think it is. But having lived under both systems I can tell you that if given the choice of living under the NHS or under the US insurance system, I would have no hesitation in choosing the NHS, even if only for career reasons. What do I mean by career reasons? Well, I recently parted company with my former employer and am working as an independent consultant. This career move would have been impossible for me in America - I would have had to either cling desperately to my previous employer at all costs, or to take a 9 to 5 job (ANY job) just to ensure I am covered. Living under universal health care has allowed me the freedom to pursue my own happiness. That’s surely something that Americans everywhere support.

If you are an American living in Europe, now might be a good time to pick up the phone to your relatives back home and give them the real story about your experiences with health care overseas. I bet they’d love to hear from you.

(Cross posted to

Funny... Because It's True!

Demonstrating its usual finger-on-the-zeitgeist flair, The Onion has an article this week entitled:

Inauguration Crowd Moves To White House Gates To Watch Presidency Happen

Which, upon reflection, isn't really so far from the truth. I mean, maybe we aren't glued to the front gate of the White House, but aren't we all watching the Obama Presidency with the same intensity some of use (ahem) used to feel for our sports teams? A friend of mine called me yesterday to tell me how excited he was to recieve the e-mail from President Obama. "I know it was probably churned out... but still! It's great."