There really ought to be a guide to what's happening in U.S. politics for those of us who are from there, but for whatever reasons choose not to live there.
It could be some online thing that could be read quickly and might contain occasional updates as one seemingly nutty thing or another occurs. If such a guide does exist, I've yet to find it. Someone should invent it. Maybe it could even be a podcast.
Sure it's possible to read coverage of various things in newspapers that are still free online and to watch the barrage of stuff that appears on telly channels, such as CNN or the BBC (both readily available here). But the days of interpretative journalism seem to have passed.
It's just whatever version of 'facts' we're being fed and then on with the rest of the show, regardless of which segment of the media is being viewed, print or broadcast. Our own state station, RTE, does a fair job of coughing up those 'facts,' as well, but it's all still way thin when you consider the affect the U.S. has on the world stage.
I've been away from there some 14 years now, except for a harrowing 10-day trip back in 2004. Obviously, there have been some momentous events over that period. There was the persidential coup in January 2001. And later that year the awful spectacle of 9/11 took place.
Then there was, just to mention a few things that would stick in anyone's mind, the crazed military onslought into Afghanistan and the questionably legal and definitely unnecessary invasion of Iraq.
In the aftermath of all that, we watched with disgust here for years as secret American spy planes landed, full of rendition prisoners headed for Guantanamo or wherever. I wonder how many people remember the Irish woman opposed to those flights who in protest attacked an American plane with an axe as it sat on a tarmac at Shannon Airport?
And as time went on there was the wave of relief when Barack Obama swept the 2008 election, with the fresh promise of change. There was little change, though, and the excitement died away pretty quickly. It has never really re-ignited.
Which brings us to the current moment, more or less.
More Obama after November will probably mean more of what's been happening in his current term. None of that has been too scary or so ugly that those of us from there who live elsewhere have to avoid the bitter criticism we often faced during the Bush regime.
But what do you say to people you live with day-to-day, in this case, in Ireland, who ask a number of pointed questions. Such as, why is it that America's economic problems remain monumental, but frontrunning political candidates dwell on abortion and, like others of their funamental religious ilk, controlling women's bodies?
And why is it that Irish who have lived in the U.S. for decades, paying taxes, marrying Americans, contributing to the better good and bothering no one, can't get legal status to stay there, they ask?
Or, why is it that America told the rest of the planet to piss off and invaded Iraq to save people there from an evil dictator, when no one either in the White House or wanting to get there seems to care about the slaughter of hundreds in Syria and Sudan by truly murderous evildoers? Why is depriving American women of birth control a more important political topic than stopping mega carnage upon those unable to defend themselves elsewhere on the planet?
Those are just a couple of examples. The fact is that people in the pub and supermarket and elsewhere that I frequent ask those kinds of questions. I can't think of any sane answers.
Another issue that baffles me from afar is why gutting the Obama health care plan is another battle cry theme of the Republican Party. Isn't that just being mean? Instead of trying to kill a fledgling national health care initiative why aren't the Republicans working with the Obama people to make the system work to everyone's liking?
Late at night I ask myself some of those questions and many others. I've been away from the U.S. for so long that 'back home' for me is my little house near the seashore here, some 40 miles north of Dublin. But I still care. Except for the cat, who appeared uninvited at the door a year ago and never left, I live here alone.
So there's no one around to either hear or answer my political questions about back there. And like I said when I began this installment, I wish there was some chronicle or report that could put the state of U.S. politics in perspective for expats such as myself.
But then I wonder in the quiet of the night if a lot of people over there are as unable to fathom the sundry issues as those of us who have moved on and away.
-- Pat O'Brien, Leinster, Ireland