eyes on the U.S.

Sure, A Third-Party Candidate Would Lose. But America Needs One Anyway

Op-ed: America’s two major political parties have become monolithic combat units with no sense of measure and little interest in compromise. One foreign observer says the only way to grease the frozen gears of the U.S. political machine is with a clear th

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Ansgar Graw

BERLIN -- Eleven months from now, Americans will be voting for their president. But whether Barack Obama stays in office or a Republican is voted into the White House on Nov. 6, 2012 is almost beside the point -- because unless things change, the power of the most powerful person in the world will be very limited.

Simply put, the United States has lost its ability to conduct politics. The world's last superpower is stuck in a polarized morass of issues that Republicans and Democrats alike are unable to compromise on, as parliamentarianism requires. Pure ideologies have won out over cool-headed good sense.

Since this past summer the divided congress of the world's biggest and richest economy has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to act. Measures to raise the debt ceiling and rein in the gigantic budget deficit were torpedoed for so long that for the first time in America's history, rating agencies lowered its rating.

A "Super Committee" comprised of members of both parties from the House and the Senate failed in its mission to find solutions despite the extreme urgency of doing so.

Infrastructure in the United States – once the poster child of modernity – is frighteningly antiquated. The economy has lost its competitive edge. The education system requires massive investment. Unfortunately, the joint will of Democrats and Republicans to tackle all this is simply missing.

What happened to the middle ground?

The paralyzing conflict runs along these lines: Republicans refuse tax increases and balk at repealing the George W. Bush tax cuts – they don't want to rock the "1%" boat even though over the last 30 years, the income of America's top earners has risen by 256%.

For their part, Democrats defend sprawling and often inefficient social security and health care programs. Meanwhile, the brutal reality is this: with a $14.7 trillion debt, the "99%" that the loud but relatively directionless Occupy Wall Street movement claims to speak for is going to have to pay.

With Baby Boomers reaching retirement age in this decade, social security and medical insurance charges can be expected to climb by 70% to 80%. And when that happens, politicians – despite promises being made now – are going to have to make massive cuts into social spending.

A dangerous tsunami of problems is headed America's way. The United States has dealt successfully with comparable challenges many times in the past, the Cold War being a case in point. But what's missing now is a common enemy, like the Soviet Union then was, to weld everyone together. Never before has the United States been this divided.

In this 150th anniversary year of the beginning of the American Civil War, writer Ronald Brownstein evokes a "second Civil War." There have of course been bitter fights in U.S. politics – about Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, abortion. But never before have the two political parties constituted monolithic combat units, as they do now.

Republicans and Democrats traditionally had conservatives and liberals within their ranks. Republicans from the liberal Northeast supported Democratic initiatives, and conservative Democrats from the South – Dixiecrats – voted for Republican legislation. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called the phenomenon a de facto "four-party system."

By 1980, 50% of America's citizens were seeing major differences between Republicans and Democrats; today, that figure has risen to 75%. Both camps are fighting for legitimacy to speak for the American people, and dissenters in either camp are the exception.

Conservative Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a lateral thinker from South Carolina, describes the situation in terms of one team pitted irrevocably against the other: "If it's a Democratic idea, I have to find fault with it because it comes from a Democrat. And vice versa."

An era of mutual mistrust

The Republicans, often with the fundamentalist-leaning Tea Party movement in tow, are particularly unbending. From their standpoint, voters showed in the November 2010 mid-term elections – when Democrats lost the majority in the House of Representatives -- that they had lost confidence in the Obama administration.

Yet Democrats are stuck too, treating government programs as if they were sacrosanct. And both sides want to see their position prevail completely with no room for adjustments. Politics in Washington is suffering from a loss of relativity.

Fifty-four percent of Democrats approved of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican president after the Second World War. Even Richard Nixon got a 39% approval rating. Bush father and son, however, only had a 15% approval rating from Democrats. Twenty-two percent of Republicans approved of Bill Clinton – while Obama, one year before the next presidential elections, has an approval rating of just 9% from Republicans.

Americans have lost any sense of moderation and middle ground. And given the situation, the only way to bring the parties to their senses is to introduce a third party. If an independent candidate for president could make it clear that on the one hand, taxes are going to have to go up, and on the other, that budgets for social programs are going to have to be cut, neither Republicans nor Democrats could go on denying the new realism. Instead they would have to find compromises by moving closer to the center.

That third candidate – someone of the caliber of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – wouldn't stand a chance of winning the election. But he or she could break up the prevailing congestion. And we would hope that for America.

Read the original story in German

Photo - emilydickinsonridesabmx

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport


Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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