Finally, the trip wrap-up that I intended to write three days ago. In addition to having jet lag, I got wrapped up in yard work when I got home. There had been a destructive local monsoon thunderstorm about two weeks before I returned on Saturday, and when I looked at my property on Sunday morning, I saw that it was full of pine needles and tree branches that had blown in from my neighbors’ trees. Luckily, I have discovered no damage to my house, but not all of my neighbors can claim the same. Several large trees blew down in the neighborhood, and one of them fell on top of and heavily damaged a house. Just a few doors away from my house, the remains of a large, uprooted tree lie upon the ground. I’m told that it fell across the street, blocking it, and that portion of the tree that had been in the street had been removed. The uprooted trunk still lies in the yard.
I made my way from my hotel to the airport on a Madrid city bus on Saturday morning and got checked in early. I had a pass to an airport lounge, so after I passed security I went to the lounge for breakfast and to wait for my flight. It was the largest airport lounge I have ever been in, and it was almost empty as the following picture shows. There was an extensive buffet breakfast plus any sort of booze one could desire, all for free. It was too early to start boozing, but I did have too many cups of coffee with breakfast, and falling back on an old custom when I was working as an electrician in Germany, I also had a bottle of beer. Prost!
My three flights were uneventful and all on time: Madrid to Newark, Newark to Denver, and Denver to Phoenix. All three flights were full, but with my aisle seat, I was able to stretch my legs and even stand up in the aisle from time to time.
From the time I awoke Saturday morning in my hotel room until I hit the sack at home Saturday night in Phoenix, about 25 hours had passed. Due to the nine-hour time difference, my body thought it was time to wake up, not to go to sleep. I managed three hours of sleep before becoming wide awake but still groggy at 2 am.
Did I learn anything from my trip? I did not learn anything new, but I once again observed how Europe is now surpassing the United States in just about every field that makes for a comfortable life. When I first traveled to and lived in Europe in the 1960s, the United States was far ahead of every European country in the standard of living that it afforded its people. Now, every Western European country leads us in life expectancy, health care, transportation, working conditions, etc. Northern European countries have pulled far ahead of the United States in education and Southern European countries are catching up.
Why is Western Europe progressing when the United States seems to be in a standstill? I believe that we are held back by the dysfunctional governments that we elect, both at the national and state levels. Where I live in Phoenix, the streets are full of potholes and outside of town, many bridges are in danger of collapsing. That is not a theoretical possibility. Occasionally, one of our bridges does fall down, sometimes plunging people to their deaths.
There is one light rail line in the Phoenix are, but otherwise public transportation consists of a fleet of grubby, aging buses that could use a good cleaning, but there is no budget for that. If I wanted to take public transportation to visit my sister, I couldn’t; buses don’t run out there. There is no passenger rail service whatsoever in Phoenix, the fifth-most-populous city in the USA, let alone the 185-mile-per-hour bullet trains that connect the major Spanish urban areas.
By traveling abroad, I get a better perspective on the malfunctional governments that we elect. One can argue with any generalization, but I’ll make one anyway. In Western Europe (I am purposely excluding East Europe) voters in general elect politicians who can make government function and deliver services to the people. In the United States, we elect politicians who cater to our prejudices, to our religious beliefs, and to our tribalistic party affiliations. Political debate in the United States is more likely to revolve around whether guns have constitutional rights than around improving education and the standard of living for working Americans.
The federal government that took office in January of this year has passed zero major legislation in the almost nine months that it has been in office. Neither the president or Congress gives a damn about ordinary people. While our president spends his time watching Fox News and sending out contradictory tweets and our senators and congress people spend their time fund-raising and catering to the wealthy, our streets and bridges deteriorate, our public education drops in quality, and voters, whom one expects to make logical voting choices, divide into groups that scream inane political slogans at each other.
The present administration may be much worse than those that went before it, but when was the last time that we had a government that actually governed?