Postcards from Sweden
Lars Schaff - texts


Postcards from Sweden - Archive FP

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2013-02-26 Tuesday
Neoliberalism excels in new morbid traits in poor Sweden.

We have a public health insurance system that is meant to cover our economic safety when we get sick. That is, during the first two weeks we are paid by our employer. The allowances are proportionate to our salaries up to an unimpressive limit.

Some unions have bargained for complementary insurance, and above that level people with higher incomes usually take out private insurances to cover the excess amount. But lots of people have nothing but the meager public benefit to (try to) live on.

As we have reported earlier in this column, our new wonderful government has not just tightened the rules for the public insurance, but ordered harsher enforcement of the implementations. We are allowed be sick, but just for a specific period of time, and then we must report for work. The dispensations from that rule are few.

To suffer from terminal cancer is not to be sick enough to get your benefits for a prolonged period. You have to prove that you definitely are dying. In today’s news we can read that a bureaucrat ordered a 23 year old boy to deliver a doctor’s certificate specifying on which day he would die. Others can obviously accept an estimation that promises a 60 percent risk of dying in a not too distant future. Then you may get some money, at least to cover your last supper.

Does this remind us of certain aspects of Nazi practices?

2013-02-20 Wednesday
There is a saying here that we Swedes see ourselves as unsuspecting and somewhat naïve, characterized by the German phrase “die dummen Schweden” (which actually is a fake factoid, only prevalent in Sweden). In any event, and with some justification, we usually trust our authorities and the welfare system we have built. We feel safe that the system will help us in some way if we unexpectedly are hit by illness, unemployment or any other serious adversity.

One thing that many really were unsuspecting about was the ultimate outcome of the elections in 2006. With a neoliberal government, for six years stepwise dismantling welfare, more and more Swedes have experienced that the feeling of safety has become false. First to be hit by “tough love” were long-time sick, who were cut off from their subsidies and forced to apply for work. (Since many of them didn’t get healthier from that treatment, they were back in the insurance program again after a long period of uncertainty and suffering.)

Next to undergo the wonderful implications of the free market replacing welfare were the unemployed. Our right-wing government had fooled and forced people to skip their unemployment insurances (by e.g. raising premiums) and thus also leave their unions. In the recession now finally reaching Sweden, ordinary people in hordes lose their “safe” jobs, and unemployment is up to 420 thousand, or 8.4 percent, a level formally considered extreme.

As many as half of the 420 thousand jobless have no unemployment insurance, a completely new and surprising situation. If they have had employment for a stipulated period of time they get a basic allowance during 300 days without specific conditions, a payment amounting to just over §1000 per month. You can barely support a family on such alms, and after the 300 days it gets even tougher.

Then you have to rely on the municipal’s social office for survival. To get any means for subsistence there you first have to sell everything valuable, such as your car and your house. Then you must be prepared to live a poor man’s life; and all this even if you have no liability at all to your unemployment. And the fact is that practically all unemployment is due to lack of jobs and nothing else!

In the wonderful neoliberal world no demands are imposed on the business community and the corporations, to create more jobs. The unemployed are fooled with the “theories” of “supply economics” saying that if they just try hard enough to find a job there will materialize an employment out of nowhere, through some miraculous process that the holy market principles will provide. That fairytales like these are told by the most respected economists tells us a lot about the indoctrination our schools are capable of. (To be fair: there are also gifted economists telling a different story.)

One would have thought that neoliberalism by now should have exhausted all credibility, but no way! In fighting this anti-human ideology we must ourselves be inexhaustible.

2013-02-15 Friday
My daily paper Dagens Nyheter had an interesting diagram the other day (12 Feb.) showing salaries for the elite relative to the ordinary industrial workers' wages. The diagram shows the number of ordinary workers' wages earned by top officials.

The red curve represents the economic elite, such as CEOs in the largest corporations. Blue is for the bureaucratic elite, meaning top officials in the public sector, and grey for top politicians. Dark grey shows the average for the whole elite.

If anyone had any doubts about the purpose of neoliberal economic principles they can obviously get a hint from this picture. Since we know that total economic growth in Sweden was higher in the more egalitarian years up till 1980 then afterwards, the enormous bonanza for the economic elite is in any case not deserved. What we see is simply a shift in power.

What’s remarkable is that the same picture in principle applies to western capitalist countries regardless of other differences. Of course the gap between elite and workers in for instance the US is some multiples wider, but the pattern is the same. As for the reasons behind this congruent development I’ve not seen any speculations, let alone any scholarly work (if any reader has, I will gratefully welcome hints or links).

Immediately after World War II there was a realistic debate in Sweden about the possible introduction of a planned economy. Even the economic elite felt compelled to make a number of concessions to avoid such a “disaster”. One possible speculation could be that the working class came out of the war as some kind of winner, thus with strengthened confidence. In those days it was after all self-evident that the Soviet Union had defeated the Nazis, the worker’s state had crushed the right-wing extremist state. (Western contributions in the margin could be magnified out of proportion only when memory had faded, and the cold war had clouded sound judgment.)

It’s not that economic power in fact would be weaker before 1980 than today, but it was then somehow compelled to share the outcome of the flowering economy in more decent proportions with the rest of society. The power of the employees grew out of organizing and strong unions and was in Sweden accompanied by determined Social Democrats who implemented egalitarian principles in parliament and in legislation.

The neoliberal deconstruction of the former societies based on solidarity was in no means called for by economic reasons. No macroeconomic indicators have improved in any significant way, but many of the hyper liberal consequences have been detrimental. Most damage has been done to poorer peoples in both rich and poor countries.

That is: neoliberalism has been a euphemistic disguise behind which the economic power has resumed its old slogan: “gain wealth, forget all but self”. The diagram above is but one clear illustration to this, among many others.

2013-02-11 Monday
Those days when Olof Palme - with some courage and decency in matters of world politics - raised his voice against the horrible Indochina wars are long gone and almost forgotten. Now official Sweden has taken on its role as humble butler in the United States’ household. It’s interesting to notice how smoothly mainstream media here adjust to the “correct” policy even in the fine-tuned details.

A year and a half ago Dagens Nyheter had a story about CIA using a vaccination campaign as a cover for accessing DNA samples in the hunt for Usama bin Laden. The story emanated from The Guardian and was obviously confirmed. Twelve prominent deans of top US public health schools recently wrote a letter to president Obama condemning the CIA methods, which already have induced deaths and ultimately may bear responsibility for severe epidemics.

The journalist’s key to appropriate handling of issues like this is first of all: don’t use the moralistic undertones that you apply to similar reports about enemies. Secondly: don’t repeat inconvenient stories, print just once. These principles were closely followed in reporting of the CIA scandal. Subsequently the story soon died here (as opposed to instances where other secret services are caught with similar misdeeds, in which case memories may last for decades).

Attacks on the vaccination programs started about a year after the CIA story was leaked. At first the programs were stopped by militant Pakistanis and the Taliban, then came the killings of personnel engaged in the vaccinations, and the subsequent closure of the whole programs. Now the newspapers' reports were repeated and the moral aspects sharply underlined.

At this stage the CIA story was also presumably forgotten. Thus the articles could deal in detail with the immoral acts and the dreadful atrocities performed by the Muslim extremists. Oblivious of history one journalist ends her article with the sentence: “Taliban have also claimed that vaccination campaigns are a cover for espionage.” Claimed! Taliban! (which infers that it is a lie). That’s how media erases history in the discrete manner we usually don’t detect.

2013-02-08 Friday
Politicians are not paid to be consistent or even commonly sensible, and their absurdities are not expected to be noticed by journalists if not fitting the appropriate agenda. Thus there is nothing to be excited about in a news flash today concerning our former Minister for Enterprise, Maud Olofsson, and a business deal she made three years ago. Except that it really is noteworthy, for conscious observers, anyhow.

The thing is that the rather famous Swedish car manufacturer SAAB underwent a severe crisis after the disastrous finance crash in 2008, like most other car producers in the world. In the US, president Obama made the decision to save General Motors from collapsing by injecting an enormous amount of money. Angela Merkel also stepped in to save German car companies with large sums. But in the great neoliberal Sweden the responsible Minister Olofsson proudly raised her voice for the sacred freedom of enterprise, declaring that “the state shall not own corporations!”. Thus SAAB got nothing.

What did she do then, when a classical company and a spearhead in car technology lay in its death throes? Well, she promised to improve roads and railways to the SAAB hometown Trollhättan, and infuse money into car research! Now the company is dead, leaving Trollhättan with the highest unemployment in the country. But the road to Gothenburg is finally excellent.

It so happened that in exactly the same time as Olofsson uttered her proud statement she approved of the state’s acquisition of a Dutch energy company, Nuon, for the neat sum of almost 100 billion Swedish Crowns (15 billion US dollars). We are talking about the same state (through its 100 % owned Vattenfall) that, according to the same Olofsson, shouldn’t own enterprises at all. Not even to save an important development center for Swedish car industry and its contractors, and a world famous brand name at that. (It should be added that Nuon turned out to be a grave economic problem for Vattenfall all along.)

Today’s minor news flash reveals that officials in Olofsson’s own department warned her that the price for Nuon was almost 30 billion crowns too high. Despite that, she approved of the business deal. For this decision she is now reported to the Parliament’s Constitutional Committee for further investigation. But since she has left politics there is nothing to defend. Honor is not at stake in this old affaire, soon buried in the protocols no one will read.

It suffices to say that these 30 billion, thrown away at a deficient fossil fuel company and lost forever, could have kept SAAB alive for many years, perhaps making a successful merger with Volvo possible. But what’s that worth, compared to (sometimes) guarding the holy neoliberal principles?

(As leader of the Center Party after Olofsson came Annie Lööf, another inexhaustible source for bloggers.)

2013-02-07 Thursday
With regard to private schools it’s fair to say that Sweden is the perfect welfare society for venture capitalists hidden in tax havens. For the schools to demand tuition isn't allowed and the state provides all financing through a voucher system in which each student corresponds to a specific sum of money. Thus there is a kind of competition for students on the education “market”.

The private schools are quite profitable and considerable amounts of taxpayer’s money end up in private pockets, often untaxed at that. We have mentioned earlier how the competition for students takes rather odd forms, such as offering fringe benefits in more or less fancy variations. An even more perverse means of competition has been revealed this week by Dagens Nyheter.

It turns out, actually quite expectedly, that private schools compete by granting higher grades than public schools. There is a control system consisting of national, common and standardized tests which are intended to guide teachers in the judgment of their students’ performances. A study made by DN shows that some schools, most of them privately owned, systematically give grades far above what the national tests indicate as legitimate.

Today the same paper had a miniscule note in 45 words revealing that teachers in private schools earn less than their public school colleagues. The mean difference in salaries for elementary school teachers is around §80 per month and for high schools teachers §289. The often heard argument that privatization should be a bonanza for the employees didn’t refer to the salaries in this case, obviously. Well, in a private business money is intended for profit, so what to expect?

Parents of children in the phase of choosing among high schools are drenched in brochures from all over the country, enticing them to select one or the other of endless alternatives. What they could ask themselves is what purposes all this privatized frenzy should fill, considering all the documented defects the system as a whole exhibits. And the question is certainly legitimate since there are no serious studies that show any substantial advantages following the privatizations. But the ideologically convinced are eagerly looking for something to expose, so we will some day here from them.

In the meantime we may just hope that the stream of failures reported from the privatized utopia will be dammed up, one way or the other. We obviously don't want to see the Swedish school deteriorate from privatization to such an extent that repairing becomes impossible (there are enough problems from other reasons).

2013-02-05 Wednesday
To be poor and healthy is better than to be rich and unwell! That’s an old saying here, intended to comfort those without money. In reality the rich have always, on average, had better health than the poor. But in pace with technological development leading to economic growth, combined with civilizing progress due to social struggle, the emerging welfare states have seen also the poor gaining improvements in health. Thus the differences in life expectancy between diverse social strata have diminished since the industrial revolution.

That is: this goes for Sweden just up till 40 years ago when things changed and history began moving backwards. The differences in life expectancy between the lower and the upper classes started to grow again. At a recent conference held at the Swedish Academy of Sciences this was shown to be a phenomenon that appeared in a number of other industrial countries as well. The empirical facts are indisputable and specifically clear when classes are defined by educational level.

Though the facts are undeniable there are few verifiable explanations. The leader of the Swedish section of the research program suggested that life style factors could contribute to one third of the differences, but that the rest only is subject to speculation.  Some international researchers interviewed by Swedish radio vaguely pointed at the welfare measures as an important factor, and urged governments to safeguard the protection of the weakest in society.

As a non-professional in the field I have the privilege of speculating with absolutely no constraints. For me the coincidence in time with the neoliberal counterattack on welfare ideals is a fruitful starting point for discussion. After the “disturbing” 1960s and the swift capitulation of the progressives (some of whom disappeared into esoteric or postmodern fogs and some into corporate boardrooms) both flanks lay wide open for a sweeping attack, soon to be successful. The shift in Sweden was manifested politically by the first non-socialist government in three decades, elected in 1976.

The many ways in which neoliberal measures affect and impair the less well-off can fill a catalogue. For one thing the welfare state’s withdrawal leaves the underprivileged alone and vulnerable to the overwhelming propaganda (advertisement) which is a prime weapon for the economic power to keep people passive and isolated in consumerism, and perpetually running in their hamster wheels.

Perhaps more direct effects of neoliberalism on the worker’s self-esteem as a producer emanate from all kinds of pressures subjected to him under the pretext of “globalization”, meaning the “need” for ever increasing profits. This and all other means of depriving the less fortunate of a true living standard can easily be understood as detrimental to health and lifespan.

Of course life expectancy for all has risen when measured in an absolute number of years. But since the inequality between classes in this respect is increasing there exist a neglected potential to extend lifespan for the less fortunate. In that sense it’s fair to say that they are deprived of lifetime, in other words suffering premature and unnecessary deaths. With my view on causalities this interprets: neoliberalism is lethal!

2013-01-31 Thursday
The choice of words is a subtle and yet effective element in propaganda in our free media. So when the semi-official Swedish news agency TT (Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå) issues a news flash about Julian Assange it seems important to suggest which feelings Swedes should have for this man. TT:s texts are often copied verbatim by most newspapers and broadcast media, among them this time Dagens Nyheter.

What’s reported by TT today is, correctly, a Twitter-message that Assange will run for a seat in the Australian Senate next election, in September this year. Supposedly to “explain” more about Assange the news flash ends like this:

“Assange has been hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden where he is accused of sex crimes.”

“Hiding”! A man holding speeches from the Embassy’s balcony, covered by media all around the world! “Accused”! To anybody’s knowledge he is not officially accused of anything; he is absurdly suspected for "sex crimes" against consenting women and wanted for interrogation by a prosecutor.

This is how Swedish journalists, cynically claiming to defend the free word, insidiously disparage a real fighter for freedom of expression. And this has become the mainstream media “policy”, as if Julian Assange’s case above all must be regarded as a matter of national prestige.

It’s a shame to be Swedish in these days, for this and for other reasons as well!

2013-01-26 Saturday
Our PM Fredrik Reinfeldt is in Davos, Switzerland, to attend the annual World Economic Forum. My newspaper reports today that he observes a great interest in Sweden and in our successful handling of the economic crisis. He probably didn’t reveal that he himself has nothing to do with the fundamental reasons, which are the high global demand for our raw materials and for products from our manufacturing industry. Those components of success are combinations of luck and engineering skills. And that luck is by the way running out with a sudden and pronounced slow-down of the economy showing up.

Most likely he neither said that the healthy conditions of the state finances are to a large extent based on harsh deterioration of living conditions for the poor and vulnerable. On this gloomy side of the great achievements my paper had an interesting article past Sunday, as we shall see.

It could have been bad enough that Swedish welfare has been reduced in scope, but it has also been ordered to redirect its way of functioning. The employees in the state welfare institutions, who mostly used to be empathetic civil servants interested in helping out their more unlucky fellowmen afflicted with sickness or unemployment, are now replaced by supervisors overseeing that the unhappy are put under adequate pressure.

(This transition, and the easiness with which it was implemented, brings to mind a historical event where a whole country was transformed from highest level of culture to the cruelest barbarism in a few years [no comparison apart from the easiness!]). The effects of the depressing process has been documented by a literate woman, a former musician and songwriter, Nike Markelius, who was admitted space in our #1 MSM Dagens Nyheter for a short report.

Just coming from surgery and thrown out of the insurance scheme due to new time limits enforced by the neoliberal government, Markelius was directed to the state employment service to report for work. There are in reality no available jobs for her whatsoever, and after a softer transition period she finally reached the cut, where she had to undergo a “Transfer” to a new “Program” (like the First Circle in Inferno).

It turned out that the “Program” implied mandatory attendance to “seminars” conducted by “coaches” from new private enterprises (multiplying like rabbits to feed from the large funds generously provided by the government). Studies have by the way shown that the almost half a million dollars so far spent on these activities have had no visible effect on the employment processes. Markelius’ documentation of the “seminars” is Kafka-like.

There was a woman forcing the jobseekers to do meaningless and humiliating group work; and a pumped-up boy insisting to communicate his “life experience” to decades older people on how to apply for jobs; obviously also the compulsory pep-talk about keeping up the spirit, being positive and all that expected crap.

As we know from this webpage there are no new jobs to apply for in Sweden, apart from what reluctant politicians can offer in the public sector. The private sector employs today the same number of people as it did in 1940, though the population is 50 percent larger today. Unemployed can thus compete for the jobs that happen to be available in the normal turn-over of employments, and there will consequently always be a given number of people without jobs, regardless of phony “seminars”.

All this is so obvious that no responsible person can claim to be ignorant. Then why do these probably intelligent people create such imbecile activities? Is it perhaps important to delude people that unemployment is self-inflicted? Or is it necessary to humiliate and degrade the victims, and if so for what purpose? Regrettably the correct answer most certainly is just as stupid as the question.

2013-01-22 Tuesday
How did Sweden regress from the world’s role model of a caring and yet prosperous welfare society to a neoliberal and thus misanthropic predator farm (to exaggerate just a bit)? And how large a step isn’t it from Olof Palme in a protest march opposing the immoral US war against Vietnam, to the subservient ministers of today eagerly persecuting a hero of the free word, Julian Assange, just to please the “owner of the world”.

This depressing “development” could however not be regarded as totally unexpected. Modern Sweden grew out of a feudal-type society, owned and ruled by an aristocracy (in some respects more pronounced so than in the neighboring Nordic countries). The class structure was hence well established when modern capitalists seized power during industrialization. With that a bourgeois class (middle class in European terms) of white collar workers, middle management and the like emerged, together with a working class with competing interests.

Initially the new ruling classes naturally had the upper hand, but through organization and mass actions the working class successively gained strength and political influence. From the mid 1930s Sweden then politically became a social democratic country, and the welfare state started to take shape. But the anti-socialist political forces were always just a hairs breadth behind in elections, and always miles ahead in media and other propaganda recourses, not to speak of economic power.

Telling examples of the influence of right-wing forces can be found for instance in the pre-war years. Sweden has later been widely criticized and disdained for deserting from World War II. But in fact the allies perhaps should be grateful for this “peacefulness”, since history shows that strong forces, including the highest military commanders, advocated a Swedish engagement in the war on Germany’s side.

After the Soviet attack on Finland these right-wing activists made an official move in early 1940. The Military Headquarters’ Chief of staff presented plans for a Swedish entrance into the war on the side of its sister nation Finland. These plans were put forward directly to the government, which was a coalition composed of all the democratic parties. But the Prime Minister, Social Democrat Per Albin Hansson, rejected the plan as nonsense.

In the year that followed the activists held public meetings where they openly argued for Sweden to join the war on the Finnish side. They also advocated overthrowing of the Swedish government, i.e. propagated for a coup d’état. Strong sentiments for Finland and its destiny created a not insignificant support among quite large groups in preferentially conservative circles. The Social Democrats, who certainly didn’t want a war anywhere near the German side, had to stand strong against these forces.

In addition to the warm feelings for Finland there had traditionally been strong ties with Germany, not least from conservatives of different shades. A typical but somewhat extreme example of these close ties was the world famous explorer of Asia Sven Hedin, a pure Nazi himself, a close friend of Hitler and a recipient of a distinguished Nazi order (with swastika and all).

Another figure in this gallery was a famous professor, Rudolf Kjellén, who invented the concepts Nationalsozialismus and Lebensraum ten years before the Germans. The author Jan Myrdal later wrote that there were a number of outright Nazis among the teachers in his high school in a conservative city district in Stockholm. In Gothenburg secret groups of middle class Nazis were disclosed after the war, and death lists discovered. None of this ever reached a court (and barely the media). In my own school in the same city there was at least one known Nazi teacher still in the late 1950s.

Apart from the outright Nazis there was a larger group of conservatives that, at least until Stalingrad, viewed the Nazi regime as a means to turn history “right”, restore Sweden as a great power and strengthen monarchy in opposition to the form of democracy they considered a rule of mediocrities. A number of militaries where found in this group.

The soil was thus well plowed and harrowed when the military Commander in Chief, Olof Thornell, at a cabinet meeting on April 21st 1941 put forward a detailed plan for Sweden to join with Finland and Germany in the then expected large attack on the Soviet Union. Thornell was a thin man, and at the other end of the table sat another thin man, Ernst Wigforss, a social democrat whose face got white from rage as he listened to Thornell. When the general had finished Wigforss asked him whether the staff had prepared any alternative plan for Sweden to join the war on the Soviet side. Thornell seemed to view the question as malice.

Wigforss was a man of moral stature and he probably contributed a great deal to the government’s decision to put an end to the military dreams (a decision which required overruling some conservative forces within the government itself). But the progressive parts of the political system had to put in all their efforts to prevent the strong pro-German forces to get their way. Any thoughts of entering the war on the allied side thus came out of reach, had there ever been any. So, neutrality prevailed.

This was perhaps a long detour just to show what impressive strength reactionary forces always have had in Sweden. Progressives have succeeded to build a welfare state only with the help of fairly small majorities in the decision making processes. Now those margins have disappeared and we have a government busy tearing welfare down, piece by piece.

2013-01-18 Friday
Neoliberals are of course aware of the questionable consequences of their beliefs, as far as moral is concerned. It requires no super brain to figure out that excessive individual freedom systematically benefits the already prosperous and harms the less fortunate. And since it’s important for civilized people not to be bluntly immoral they have to invent a rationale.

The prime rationale for neoliberalism is fabricated on the basis of a thesis attributed to Adam Smith, saying that a free market for goods and services automatically creates the best of all possible worlds. It’s the famous “invisible hand”, steering everything in an optimal way. Now, first of all Adam Smith never used the phrase invisible hand in Wealth of Nations in the alleged context. But more importantly he presupposed that a free market economy would create a decent and reasonable society with wealth distributed in a fair way. This part of Smith’s work is conveniently forgotten, since it says almost the opposite of what our free market economy does.

On the surface market mechanism do work to monitor production and distribution of goods and services to meet our demands. To some extent it depends on the fact that we are propagandized by producers to demand what happens to be produced. But on the whole the market principles are working as intended. The problem is that they also inflict collateral damage on a large scale.

One devastating damage is that market forces now and then crush the world economy, as we have seen recently. The only thing that can be done about that fundamental failure in its function seems to be to let ordinary taxpayers bail out bank owners and high officials. All workable regulations are forcefully prevented, and we may just sit and wait for the next crash to come.

Sweden is a hot candidate to be first in line in the next financial catastrophe, and all responsible powers just look on passively. Swedes are heavily in debt, mainly as a consequence of extremely liberal rules for amortizing debts on their houses. In practice there is no time limit at all for paying back mortgages.

The debts have increased sharply in the last couple of years, as has housing prices, far above any real growth in economy. The prospects are so gloomy that a small dampening of the rate of further increase is reported as good news. The crisis is reflected in the loan-to-deposit ratio for Swedish banks, as shown in the diagram below (source).

Two of the three banks in overwhelming “lead” are Swedish (the third bank is from Denmark, a country suffering tough consequence of a housing bubble that burst). The banks in the 6th and 15th positions are also Swedish: a remarkable achievement for such a small country. Our predicament is very much observed in international media and commentary.

Our economy luckily survived the 2008 crash with limited injuries. A happy mix of raw materials and manufacturing industry that fit the demands from expanding economies saved us this time. Unfortunately policy makers thought that we had become immortal, and stopped thinking. Today our Finance minister declares that effective actions against the exploding debts cannot be taken, since that would trigger the crisis that he consequently sees ahead: the housing bubble would then burst.

So, serious attempts to prevent the bubble from bursting will cause it to burst: a great lose/lose situation that could have been prevented by some thinking when there still was time. Sens moral: retract any loans you may have given to Swedes, and do it immediately!

2013-01-12 Saturday
We have been honored with a piquant political scandal here in Sweden lightening up the January darkness a bit. It’s the small Center Party who has presented a draft to a document on the party’s main ideas for the future, peppered with neoliberal excesses never heard of in Swedish politics. The most exhilarant of these were motions to legitimize polygamy, open up for free immigration, introduce flat tax, abolish inheritance laws and compulsory school attending, and some other things in the same spirit.

This party was once founded by Swedish farmers to guard agricultural interests and the needs of the countryside generally. In the 1930s the party had a somewhat brown shadow, but used to defend welfare politics together with the Social Democrats. When farmers disappeared as a political force a change of name became suitable. At the same time the green issues timely popped up and with the help of environmental topics the party reached 25 percent of voters, and in the elections in 1976 their leader thus became Prime Minister of the first non-socialist government in almost forty years.

Since then the party has been on a downward slope now hitting a record low rating in polls, some 3 plus percent, threatening to send them out of the Parliament in the next election. In this predicament the neoliberal volcano erupted, arousing fury among the old party veterans still adhering to more neutral ideas (the “center extremists” as a comedian once called them). How this backstairs revolution came about seems suddenly surprising to everyone. But the answer is a bright young girl, Annie Loof (Lööf with Sw. letters), 28, recently elected chairman of the party.

Loof has been reading too deeply into the works of Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick and has become saved. Together with some young allies she has obviously hoped to bring on a neoliberal revolution in the party, in opposition to a large majority of party members and officials. The best one can say about this is that she has committed a grave tactical error.

As to the more philosophical grounds for her extreme neoliberalism one cannot but marvel. Now, Loof comes from the thin Bible belt of Sweden where Free-Churchism traditionally has been relatively strong, so elements of faith are something she probably is familiar with. Her deep belief in total and individual freedom has in any event religious overtones.

The philosophical problems of complete freedom where thoroughly discussed (again) in the 1960s and 70s. Before that the founders of the liberal ideas had already noticed the dilemmas. Is there such a thing as total, individual freedom at all? Is there freedom for one that doesn’t infringe on freedom for the other? If my freedom doesn’t affect other individuals in any way (for instance “freedom to breathe”) do we even talk about freedom at all in such cases?

Already Karl Marx made the observation that man is a political animal (zoon politicon) who only in a society could isolate himself. In his view one individual’s experience of absolute freedom has to be a solipsistic illusion. We are all dependent on each other and can thus never be to totally free.

Freedom in the neoliberal discourse has an ultimate signification, namely the freedom of property owners to dispose of their property without interference from others. This leads immediately to an institutional structure that entails the fundamental contradiction to freedom, for others namely. The priority that ownership implies is the basis for a business world that constitutes a tyrannical, dictatorial structure in which orders are given at the top and obeyed downstream.

As the most significant result of the neoliberal epoch the last 30 years we can note a remarkable transfer of the societal production result from an overwhelming majority of the populations to extremely small groups of already rich people becoming even more filthy rich. This is such a tremendously dominating effect that it has to be considered the ultimate goal of neoliberalism. Thus Annie Loof’s conception of “freedom” is an effective way of suppressing the interests of the majority of ordinary people, benefiting first of all the very rich. It’s a long, long distance away from the ideals of the old Center Party, and by the way from good old common sense.

2013-01-10 Thursday
Owen Jones’ brilliant critique of the Tory government in the Independent yesterday is self-evidently substantiated, as is the corresponding judgment on the Swedish government. Both our countries have larger national incomes than ever before and undoubtedly considerably higher than in the 1970s.

But in those remote days there was no visible poverty in Sweden and definitely no soup kitchens. Ordinary people who happened to become unemployed or sick didn’t have to apply for social benefits (“poor relief” as it once correctly was called) as many have today. The social insurance systems worked and people didn’t have to suffer radical deteriorations of their lives if they accidentally were hit by unemployment or sickness. And there were certainly no full-time working people unable to live on their salaries.

On strictly logical grounds it’s impossible that harsh austerity with it's really severe consequences should be needed today when the societies are much richer than before. So, where does the money disappear? That’s no mystery, I’m afraid. Since the 1970s the transfer of the societal production result from the large majority to a miniscule elite has taken mind-boggling dimensions.

Most of these gargantuan amounts of money in the hands of a few are then engaged in gambling games called financial speculations, now and then crushing the global economy, but not adding much productive value which could be of importance for the working people. It feels almost embarrassing to write this down, since it’s all so obvious, at least for people without the necessary education to blind themselves to the reality.

In one respect it’s somewhat unfair to through all blame on Cameron and our Reinfeldt, given that they only are the homeroom teachers, eager to appease the head master’s office, manned by the anonymous economic power. But they shall anyhow bear responsibility for so willingly participating in punishing the less fortunate pupils.

2013-01-08 Tuesday
There is just one conceivable explanation why bourgeoisie media in Sweden and elsewhere express such hatred towards Hugo Chávez, and that is his economic policy with its purpose to help the poor majority of his countrymen with food, education, health care and other fundamentals for a decent life.

In this process a minority is affected negatively. Those are above all the miniscule groups of super rich which often serve as henchmen for US economic interests (which also “suffers”). In the good old days this type of groups ruled most countries in Latin America, when necessary with the help of military forces, often armed and trained by the US, lead by more or less Nazi style generals (and sometimes with masses of people simply murdered).

In Venezuela there is undoubtedly also a large minority of bourgeoisie professionals and others who believe they would be better off with a more right-wing president. These groups implemented the large strikes in 2003 that almost ruined the country. In Swedish media this was described as “Chávez driving the economy into chaos”. Well, that’s also a way of looking at things.

Dagens Nyheter published in 2004 an article by the author Mario Vargas Llosa (then not yet a Nobel Laureate), where he lost all inhibitions. He described Chávez as a “criminal officer”, “disciple of the tyrant Fidel Castro”, “coup plotter”, an “enemy of his people” and “a danger for his neighboring countries”. This demon was turning his country into a “dictatorship” with the help of his “cruelty”, his “rhetoric of hatred and vindictiveness” and “populist demagogy”. Through his “despotic and totalitarian deed” he was giving away his country to “barbarism and authoritarian obscurantism” (just to pick some of the flowers).

Vargas Llosa’s main point was more interesting. Venezuela’s powerful opposition had gathered signatures for a petition demanding a referendum on Chávez’ presidency, in which they expected an easy victory by two thirds of the votes. It seemed as if the Chavistas in violation of the rules were trying to block the referendum, and Vargas Llosa’s article was a call to OAS, UN and EU to counteract that. If this referendum is allowed to take place “a bloody civil war has been averted” Vargas Llosa asserted.

The referendum actually took place – and Chávez won with 60 percent of the votes, as usual in an election fully approved of by external monitoring bodies. Curtain!

Hugo Chávez is naturally no saint. That’s impossible in politics for anyone, and particularly so when you challenge the core interests of the United States of America. But it is quite unbelievable that he would undertake all the hardship just for his own love of power, which is claimed right out in our media. He would have had a much easier way to the presidency by the traditional method of subordinating himself under the world’s leading power. But our media have learned the Goebbels' lesson: if you must lie, make it greatly!

By denying that Chávez has a philanthropic base for his policy, all those who oppose him don’t have to present any alternative way to meet the enormous needs of the large majority in Venezuela. They can then just go on the same way as in the last five hundred years, completely ignoring the poor and unwashed masses.

2013-01-05 Saturday
The most prominent Swedish rag, Dagens Nyheter, is in its main editorial today hoping that Hugo Chávez will die from his cancer: “For the people of Venezuela it would hardly be a loss if the president the coming years had some other name than Hugo Chávez”. (I suppose that DN would have a different approach if the chief editor of the People’s Daily were to hope for our Prime Minister to drop dead.)

The fortuity that “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world” (pres. Carter) doesn’t influence DN in its view that Chávez has shown “obvious dictatorial tendencies”. For DN it seems insignificant that the people have had a number of opportunities to dispose of Chávez, but repeatedly have re-elected him, with large majorities at that. But since this is not the result that Sweden’s most important newspaper wants, it cannot be called democracy.

Nor is it democracy that poverty has been reduced, which is the only one of Chávez’ progressive achievements that DN even mentions. On the other hand they find enough undemocratic activities to fill half the page. One obvious of them is the curtailing of the free media. On that one DN conveniently forgets the role of media in the treason committed in 2002, when Chavez for a while was illegally overthrown.

On a TV show some time ago well-known actor Sean Penn quietly pointed out that all these treacherous journalists without notice had been locked up in prison, had the same kind of coup taken place in the US. But in Venezuela they cannot be punished since their mentors are to be found in the US. Instead they are still free to push their reactionary agenda, and according to what Penn himself heard, propagating the assassination of Hugo Chávez. (Apparently they can soon drop that kind of immoral and disgusting talk.)

As for the other breaches of democratic rules one can summarize by saying that it’s not a tea party (sic!) to challenge a miniscule but super rich local elite and even more powerful US investors. This is in fact the really serious crime committed by Chávez: he has bereaved them of the huge oil profits and reallocated money to benefit the poor. It’s not a soft power he thereby has faced up to, and the measures required for defense are in accordance with that.

To finish with one other example of Chávez “dictatorial tendencies”: DN denounces him for finding his friends in Russia, Iran and Cuba. This is standard demagogy invented during the cold war. The simple rebuttal is: where could a country that defies the United States find its friends otherwise? As a decoder of official policy Dagens Nyheter anyhow confirms that Hugo Chávez wouldn’t have had any success with asking Sweden to become a friend.

2013-01-03 Thursday
Two reactions to yesterdays note on Hugo Chávez appeared on Twitter. One of the tweets equated Chávez with Hitler, and the other implied that Venezuela is not a democracy. This perception of democracy is certainly not an extreme position in our western culture. We reserve for only very solemn occasions the original interpretation of the concept as “rule of the people”. In practice “democracy” is in place only under special preconditions.

How about the formal performance of Venezuelan democracy then? Elections in Latin America have historically been more or less manipulated. The shadow of the United States has been cast over the region, giving hints of what a suitable voting result should be. In this perspective the elections that brought Chávez into power have obviously been remarkably fair.

The receiver of the Nobel Peace Prize and former US president Jimmy Carter is the founder and figurehead of the Carter Center, among many other things engaged in overseeing elections around the world. At a meeting in September 2012 Jimmy Carter was cited saying: ”As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

Despite the manipulations many elections in Latin America now and then have turned out to be “too democratic”, a calamity repeatedly cured with convenient military coups. “Too democratic” has usually meant that the small elites have had to give away too many crumbs to the ordinary people. The wage and wealth gap in Latin America has for a long time been mind-boggling. When Chávez started his substantial efforts to remedy that absurdity he was overthrown by the military and the economic elite, but reinstalled in a few days thanks to popular pressure.

To be considered “democratic” the leaders of a Latin American country traditionally had to comply with US rules, and with the needs of the local elites. This principle applies also to other parts of the world. So, for instance, when the Palestinian population in Gaza voted for Hamas in the first free elections in the Arab world, it was not an acceptable democratic result. Consequently the population had to be punished with different kinds of harassment, not just by the US but also by EU.

But things have happened to shake this old world view, much of it probably with Hugo Chávez’ initiative as an inspiration. One country after the other in Latin America has obtained really democratic governments. In northern Africa old dictatorships, which we in the western world have supported for decades, were overthrown by their populations. Unrest is still spreading in the Middle East. In southern Europe people are driven to desperate acts by brain-dead austerity measures, and we haven’t seen the end of that story. Even in USA popular unrest, manifested by Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots, is growing.

It seems that human beings all over the world are recapturing the concept “democracy”, filling it with the original meaning: Rule of the people.

(Reliable data on Venezuela
is provided by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, founded by economists Dean Baker och Mark Weisbrot, with Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Robert Solow in its expert council.)

2013-01-02 Wednesday
Gloomy reports from Cuba on Hugo Chávez’ health condition appear. A forth operation in a short time and not very encouraging statements by the vice president of Venezuela indicate a troublesome development. The Venezuelans are probably preparing for the worst.

Here in Sweden the bourgeoisie media has undergone an interesting process of maturity. For many years Chávez was described as a socialist buffoon not worthy of anything more than ridiculing commentary. But he was not just a goofy but also a dangerous clown, who put restrictions on the free press and didn’t observe human rights, i.e. the few of the articles in the UN Universal Declaration that we in the capitalist countries consider the only ones valid.

The fact that the “free press” consisted of traitors, supported by foreign interests, preparing and propagating for a coup d’état, and then participating in it, didn’t affect western denouncements of the man exposed to this criminality. Our media never even reflected over the much harsher destinies that would have hit conspirators of similar kind in our own countries: long prison sentences.

Chávez honored many of the other articles of the UD (those that in the west are ridiculed as “a letter to Sancta Claus”) that urge the signing states to meet their citizen’s material and substantive needs of different kinds. Such that in Chávez’ case resulted in a reduction of poverty to half of its initial level, an increase in the number of primary care doctors by 1 100 percent, deletion of illiteracy, a sevenfold increase in the number of meals served in schools, and many other thing like that. For our brave journalists Chávez’ dedication to his country’s poor inhabitants seemed only worth contempt. (The coincidence that Venezuela’s GDP has doubled in just nine years under Chávez leadership is then an inconvenient fact that has to be suppressed.)

Lately things have changed. An understanding tone has suddenly appeared in our media, and a concern over the fate of Venezuela should Chávez die. At best an insight has spread that it isn’t such a bad idea to give Venezuela’s poor citizens a share of the oil money that otherwise had gone to US investors, some of it via a small local elite living like Gods and swimming in money. In the spirit of the New Year: let’s give the benefit of the doubt to our journalists and assume that they in this case mysteriously have acquired both brains and hearts.

2012-12-29 Saturday
On request I will briefly repeat in English an earlier piece on the historical development of employment in Sweden. As in most capitalist countries there is extensive political verbiage on the question “how to create jobs”. It’s considered the main responsibility for politicians to perform this decisive task. But with the exception of the public sector our politicians have completely failed with their “creation of jobs” for the last 70 years. Or rather: they have not realized or admitted the total impossibility to fulfill the task.

The situation can be summarized in one simple picture:

Employment in private enterprises today is thus roughly on the same level as in 1940. Since that year population has increased by 50 percent, or 3 million people, and GDP by 400 percent. The key to this development is of course the rising productivity, thanks primarily to remarkable technological progress. A high pressure to extract profits has ensured that workforce has been kept at minimum requirements.

For the economic “science” with its love for theories filled with dogmas and wishful thinking these historical facts are inconvenient and thus hidden away and ignored. But if we were to study economic patterns on the grounds of empirical reality it seems obvious that our kind of market economy cannot solve the employment problem. The economic development can only just keep up with productivity growth, so that the number of employed can stay fairly constant.

A total collapse of the labor market has been avoided by the expansion of the public sector, a way now considered “closed” since taxes can’t be raised in a neoliberal society. Another way to “solve” the problem of unemployment was to simply expel half a million people from the working community in the early 1990s, as a way to deal with a homemade banking crush. Sweden had deregulated the finance sector in the 80s, which caused a brain-dead housing bubble inevitably bursting in a couple of years.

The entire herd of pundits in our society – in politics, media and elsewhere – is either simply ignorant of facts, or they deem the consistent 70 years long development to be an unfortunate and incidental anomaly. Thus the discussion is all about different methods to “create jobs” as if there would be some odd procedure not yet tried during 70 years of failed “job creation”. Not surprisingly most methods that our present government introduces are definitely creating profits, but not so many jobs.

It’s not that the facts are entirely hidden. Some time ago a very high official in the business community – Urban Backstrom - mentioned the constant employment figures in our premium newspaper, more or less in passing. When I once corresponded with the head of a conservative think-tank I realized that he was fully aware of the facts. But regardless of the critical importance these facts have there is no break-through for them in the public debate. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to suppose specific intentions behind this concealment.

But facts hammer on and there will come other, more enlightened eras.

2012-12-26 Wednesday
A twitter reader pointed at the sleeping Swedish people who are seemingly unaware of the strange and disastrous transformation going on here. And it’s quite correct that we appeared to fall asleep some time before the elections in 2010. But before that it was a different story.

The center-right government that came into power in 2006 started with a chock treatment. Neoliberal measures were enforced without delay, and people were taken by surprise. “This is what we promised before the election” the ruling parties said, referring to the fine-print that nobody had taken seriously. I will mention just a couple of examples.

One of the first attacks was on the unemployment insurances, which here have a strong connection to the unions. Fees were sharply increased and also differentiated in a way that hit the weakest unions the hardest. People started to abandon the insurance in masses and with that also the unions. This was of course a main goal for the neoliberal government. (With lay-offs now spreading like an epidemic, we will have to see lots of people trying to survive on minimal social benefits.)

Another target was the sickness benefits. Among other things harsh rules were introduced for everybody with long-time sicknesses. After about a year of sickness the insurances were compulsively ended and the patients were forced to report to the public employment agency to be tested for suitable work. This created of course a lot of anxiety and despair, which certainly not promoted any recovery for the sick.

The situation soon became intolerable and a small turning point came when a number of oncologists wrote an article in the main paper. They described how a women with cancer in a late stage hade to report for work to get some food on the table. This became too thick even for neoliberals and some exceptions from the rule had to be introduced.

All these strange and frightening “reforms” elicited a public outcry depriving the government of most of its support. In opinion polls as late as in early 2009 the opposition had a lead by almost 20 percent points, which means that they had 40 percent more potential voters than the government. In a democracy worthy of the name a government with such a horrible disapproval rate would have resigned voluntarily. But this was a bourgeoisie government in a country with dominantly bourgeoisie media, and the question of resignation was never even whispered.

Less than two years later the outcry had died away and we all had gone to sleep. The disastrous government won the election in 2010, albeit with a smaller margin. One important reason was that the Social Democrats didn’t capture the public sentiments and thus didn’t attack the government on the critical welfare issues. This proud old Worker’s Party had namely been hijacked by an urban based, middle class leadership ignorant of the core voters in the industrial landscape far away from the capital. Those fifth columnists were caught by the crazy idea of “aligning the party to the center”, for which they were effectively punished by their voters.

The Social Democrat's detrimental leadership from 2010 is gone, but the policy is not. Neoliberal economics may destroy yet a number of countries, and possibly cause uncontrollable uproar in that process, but in the former welfare state Sweden it may well survive the elections in 2014.

2012-12-23 Sunday
Here in Sweden the coming holiday is a time for families and relatives to join together, exchange gifts, eat and drink too much and simply socialize. Accordingly it’s not a holiday for lonely people. Back in the 1970s, when solidarity was fashionable, young progressives organized “alternative Christmas parties” for homeless and other solitary individuals. Today, when both our political leadership and the zeitgeist are indifferent towards any kind of commonality, Christmas is tougher again for the lonely.

We may give our share to charity, as a toothpick on a mountain, together with our sympathy, which will feed nobody, and just dream of a better world where true empathy had a say. In such a world compassion would be something that ruled our societies, and a decent life for all something that we organized socially and all paid for jointly.

Christmas Eve is the prime holiday here and is called Julafton. The word Jul has Germanic and pre-Christian roots, which is convenient since the religious elements in the celebrations nowadays are fairly eviscerated. The partying is back to its pagan origin which suits us well in this country, the most secularized in the world. The flip side is that our neoliberal egoism could have done well with some Christian spirit of altruistic love.

The best we can do is to work for a society based on solidarity with the means we possess and with the tools we master. We can also nurture the glow by practicing solidarity, caring and love within our own private sectors. On New Year’s Eve we use to make promises for the coming year, a perfect opportunity for (once again) pledging to become a better human being in these aspects.

In the spirit of universal love I therefore whish all possible readers of these lines a pleasant holiday regardless of faith or any other disparities. I’ll be back in a few days somewhat overfed and with renewed high aims and aspirations, ready to be disappointed all over again and by that hopefully stimulated to numerous restarts.

2012-12-21 Friday
(This was the day we weren't supposed to live through, according to some lunatics. It's comforting and hopeful that they so often are wrong.)

I received an email from a soul mate expressing concern over the crumbling Swedish welfare state. Some parts of my reply may be of more common concern:

As for the Swedish welfare state the picture is of course not totally black. We’ve had a government lead by our right wing party since 2006, and they have worked rigorously to dismantle welfare for six years now. In a way they have been successful to an extent that most people before 2006 had thought impossible, but there are on the other hand some limits that cannot be passed. They have, at that, actively protected some parts of the old structure, such as labor unions’ right to collective bargaining, extra taxes for higher incomes, rent regulations and a number of other things, thus annoying some of the hard core conservatives.

Your description of how Sweden has been portrayed through the years in USA applies also to continental Europe. A successful and rich industrial country that also took care of the ordinary citizens was of course a threat to those in power. So bad news from Sweden often became great news spread on front pages in continental papers. As for the US I’m old enough to have some memory of the myth spread by President Eisenhower that Swedes were so bored in their sheltered society that they preferred to kill themselves. Apart from the absurd causality the factual claim of an unusually high suicide rate in Sweden was completely false. But that imagination has then got eternal life, it seems.

My country was once leading the welfare development in the industrial world, but today we should rather speak of the Nordic model since our neighbors in many respects have passed us. I should say that Norway is the leading welfare state in our small region. They have a significantly egalitarian philosophy guiding their social policy, and oil money enough to implement it. Finland has outperformed us, and most other countries, in education, just to mention a few things. I recommend you to follow the development in our neighboring countries, particularly Norway.

2012-12-19 Wednesday
It might be necessary to explain how the exotic system with benefits for the wealthy (subsidies for buying domestic services) described in yesterdays note at all could be enforced. A child could realize that the right wing parties in power sought to satisfy their rich constituencies, a motive that of course couldn’t be admitted. So, what pretexts were conjured up?

First to be drawn was the Gender card. “Women” (all women supposedly) were to be freed from domestic work, thus enhancing their opportunities in working life and promoting their careers (the “careers” of the cleaning personnel was not considered, of course). From the beginning it was obvious for the average thinker that only a small minority of households would have the financial surplus necessary even to reflect on buying domestic services. By now that minority consist of about 10 percent of the taxpayers, a group certainly affluent enough not really to need state subsidies.

The farcical part of the gender argument became subsequently too obvious, and it quietly disappeared. Instead the real trump card was found: the subsidies would counteract the widespread use of black labor in the business, and promote serious enterprises who pay decent salaries and taxes. It sounds all too good to be protested against, of course. We all want illegal activities wiped out. What no one seemed to realize was the absurdity in the choice of method.

We must take for granted that a state authority never ever would contemplate paying bribes to criminals to make them avoid committing crimes. But that is exactly what is at stake here. Tax fraud is a crime and the rich are compensated with half the cost of domestic services to make them stay away from becoming criminal. In the debate not a single pundit is pointing at that embarrassing circumstance. One reason could be that illegal tax evasion is not considered a real crime after all, despite of what the penal code says.

But what does the political opposition say? Well, in spite of the fact that the beneficiaries are an insignificant minority, and those who pay for their luxury are the rest, it is not “politically possible” to oppose the RUT deduction at this point. The Social Democrats are not able to take that seemingly easy debate and have thus totally capitulated. It could be suspected that the party’s leadership is so bourgeoisified that its members actually like the whole idea, and personally even may enjoy the benefits. That last suspicion is just mean speculation, of course, but if the truth is something else it is deeply hidden.

2012-12-18 Tuesday
Some months ago I mentioned the RUT deduction for domestic work here in Sweden (rutavdrag) which is a gift from ordinary taxpayers who themselves cannot afford to pay for such services, generously handed over to the minority of people rich enough not having to clean their own homes. Just some 10 percent of taxpayers are sufficiently affluent to be able to take advantage of that gift.

It’s called a tax deduction for demagogic reasons, but is simply a pure social benefit. The rich beneficiaries pay only half the bill, the other half is invoiced directly to the tax authorities by the enterprises that deliver the services. Apart from the grotesque distributive effect, the picturesque system creates a voluminous bureaucracy. Among other things a postal mail must be sent by the tax authorities to the (already overstretched) rich people after each transaction. This is to guard that the yearly limit (some §15,000 for a double-income household) is not passed.

Another task for the bureaucracy is to update the long list of operations covered by the benefit. One precedent after the other has passed the decision makers desks. Some of the lasts ones are hilarious. Thus, if you have a large party at your mansion and need to hire a bartender, the poorer among your fellow countrymen will pay half the cost for that essential service. Similarly you are qualified for the same kind of social benefit if you are in a need for a butler.

The last creative addition to the list ordered by the government has finally met some opposition. It’s a decision to include into the system private tutors who help rich people’s children with their school work. This was a challenge to the deeply rooted opinion that everyone shall have the same opportunity when it comes to education.

There exist in Sweden nonprofit organizations with voluntary teachers who help pupils with special needs. One of these groups in Stockholm has had a modest allowance from the city authorities to cover administrative costs. Their latest request for money was rejected on the grounds that the organization was unfairly competing with commercial enterprises! If only because of the widespread reactions this aroused, the politician in charge realized that this was a bit thick, and denied the motivation already announced. Whether the decision about the money will be reconsidered she didn't say.

These latest events took place the last couple of days. The continuation of this soup opera can be expected to be equally ridiculous and tragic in the same manner as hitherto. I’ll keep you updated.

2012-12-12 Wednesday (12-12-12)!
Even Nobel laureates may sometimes disregard (or perhaps forget) fundamental aspects of their own subject.

At the UN Climate Conference in Doha recently, Dagens Nyheter’s chief science editor, Karin Bojs, had a lunch conversation with Steven Chu, Obama’s Minister of Energy. Chu received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 and has “insight and overview as only very few” in Bojs’ opinion. They came to talk about energy saving measures.

On his visits to Sweden Steven Chu thus “had been somewhat annoyed at all electric candleholders people have in their windows” (during holiday season, that is). Bojs explained how important light is in our dark country, to which Chu replied that we should use LED lamps for our luminaries for the sake of energy conservation.

Now there are two important observations to do. The first is that all those shining lights have nothing to do with CO2 emissions, since practically all electricity in Sweden is generated in either hydropower or nuclear power plants. The second and more important observation is that there is no energy to be saved by changing lamps or turning off lights in our climate. And on this point professor Chu disregards the first law of thermodynamics, a corollary of which implies that all energy supplied to the lamps is transformed to heat.

It so happens that our need for light coincides chronologically with the need for residential heating. So, if we turn out the lights in order to save energy, we have to add the exact same amount of energy to our heating system to keep the indoor temperature constant. Thus there is no energy to save that way! Turning off lights may be productive for places like California, but not for Sweden nine moths of the year (and the rest of the year we don't need lamps at all).

Chu also revealed a related hang-up on energy-saving: he always puts the lid on the saucepan when cocking (and tries to convince his wife to do the same). This is also a questionable endeavor.

We learned somewhere in high-school that vaporization of water requires energy. But we also learned that condensation of the steam thus produced recovers exactly the same amount of energy. Whether this condensation takes place inside the saucepan (making the lid hot) or in the kitchen air makes no difference from conservation point of view. The energy is heating the kitchen and thus the apartment to the same level, lid in place or not. The crucial fact is that the lid doesn’t affect the amount of water vaporized or condensed and consequently has no significance for the energy requirements. There are possible complexities to the case (such as a kitchen fan), but the main principle is undisputable.

Professor Chu’s approach in these two matters is archetypical for conservationists also here. Sweden has a state bureau (Energimyndigheten) completely obsessed with lamp changing and other such irrelevant methods, simple enough for politicians to comprehend. One is almost forced to believe that all those pseudo actions are promoted to create illusions of decisiveness on environmental protection issues by those in power.

Of course there are completely different actions needed to cope with the real environmental problems. Those actions are probably severe and pervasive on a scale not pleasant to realize, carrying with it a complete remake of our lifestyles in the wealthier parts of the world. It could be tempting to postpone such actions, just to find that we thereby bring forward the end of mankind.

2012-12-11 Tuesday
A well-established yearly Internet conference is arranged in Sweden; in 2012 it was for the 13th year in a row. Reports on different sessions of the conference appeared in “IVA-aktuellt”, a periodical published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in Stockholm.

One of the many sessions was on the topic Muzzled by the state - national threats to freedom of expression online. An American professor at the University of Uppsala, Christian Christensen, was cited in IVA-aktuellt with the following sentence (my translation from Swedish):

If Wikileaks’ informer, Bradley Manning, had been Chinese, and the leaked information also Chinese, then USA would had acted intensely to have him released.

On reflection this is a purely logical statement, not at all political. It just follows directly from the universal interpretation of the concept “freedom of expression”. Hence the sentence also was cited on the editorial page in “Ny Teknik”, our leading weekly newspaper on technology (probably with editors trained in logic).

While we thus can find Academies, established scientists and decent technology newspapers convey obvious truths in the Manning case, our subservient politicians and political media are close to dead silent. Instead they are busy chasing Julian Assange. It’s nothing less than humiliating (and if there will be a vacation trip to France next summer for me, I think that I’ll pose as Norwegian).

2012-12-10 Monday
Today is the Nobel Day in the Swedish calendar. The prizes will be submitted to the laureates this afternoon by the king in a pompous ceremony in Stockholm. As always, the prize in literature is the most highlighted (although the prizes in the scientific disciplines surely are more significant for mankind), and this year’s winner Mo Yan has furthermore given rise to political controversies. An earlier laureate, Herta Müller, declared the prize to him a scandal, as did others.

The interesting thing is what Mo Yan has done to deserve this harsh reaction. Has he paid tribute to the murderous Mao regime? Has he hailed the communist party and its actions? Has he even neglected the many negative consequences of the monolithic China? None of that. He has become a party member and accepted a position in the Writers Association. That is the sole basis for the “scandal”.

Much more than that is usually needed when it comes to writers from other parts of the world. When the politically outspoken Harold Pinter won the prize in literature he held an inflammatory Nobel speech denouncing the United States for its war against Iraq (recommended listening on the Internet, by the way). Some eyebrows were raised, but that was it. And just two years ago the laureate was a profiled and quite extreme conservative – Mario Vargas Llosa – neither he discrete about his political viewpoints.

One of Vargas Llosa’s more notorious opinions is that the indigenous movements in Latin America are threats to democracy because
of ‘the political and social disorder they generate’, and that they are ‘incompatible with civilization and development’. During a conversation with the 2010 laureates broadcasted by television he praised the development in the former Soviet protectorate (where millions of people had died as a direct consequence of the capitalist “revolution”). One of the Russian born physicists at the table just grunted in a somewhat demeaning tone: “You haven’t lived in Russia!”

One observation in passing is that Vargas Llosa and his politics represent a continent where people with inconvenient opinions not just have been incarcerated, as in China, but have faced other destinies such as being cut to pieces with machetes or having their brains blown out by some death squad, armed and trained by the United States. The very thought that Vargas Llosa in any way should have to answer for that is of course ludicrous.

It seems more or less inevitable that the Nobel Prize in literature now and then provokes political debate. At best it thus contributes to some enlightenment and new insights into world problems. So, let’s finish with a few words on China.

The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are estimated to have cost the lives of 30 million Chinese. At the same time, the Nobel economist Amartya Sen has calculated, some 100 million lives have been saved in China (compared with democratic and capitalist India), thanks to the egalitarian politics which has spread the society’s recourses more evenly. It’s a horrible calculation, but it cannot be avoided. Added that the terrible atrocities possibly were not necessary to achieve the good parts, the equation becomes even more tilted.

Likewise one can argue that the repressive policy in China regarding freedom of expression shouldn’t be necessary to uphold civil discipline. In any way, the repressive tolerance that we have in the west is the probably most efficient that history has produced. Propaganda is more successful when people unsuspectingly believe that they just enjoy the informative messages that a free society is supposed to provide.

But let us, just for the sake of discussion, assume that the subjugation of the free word is essential to maintaining the Chinese politics that happens to save lives. Then, how many premature deaths would it be worth to free one writer from censorship? For those who believe that suppression of the free word is necessary for the Chinese dictatorship to preserve its power, the calculation is unavoidable. For us who don’t it’s even more important and obligating to apply this calculation in our own part of the world. What is the prize for our freedom, and, above all, do we offer any thoughts or any compassion for the poor masses that pay that prize?

2012-12-07 Friday
When the author and Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter once was the introducer to one of Noam Chomsky’s speeches, he finished in his distinctive voice with the following characterization of Chomsky:

He does something
that is really quite easy

but rather unusual:
He tells the truth!

Today Noam Chomsky turns 84 years. I remember an answer he gave once asked why he had spent so much time and effort on politics, which mostly had caused him trouble, when he could have lived comfortably as an admired and famous scientist. He then said, as I recall it, that he wanted to have an acceptable answer to a specific question at the end of his life: Why did I bother living for at all?

I think this question goes to the heart of any existentialist reflection. Whatever we achieve in life, it all vanishes with death, except for contributions that in some way will benefit the posterity. Am I content with giving my children a material heritage? OK, but isn’t that an unnecessarily limited goal for a full life on earth, the only life we are given?

Noam Chomsky has more than fulfilled his own criteria for a descent life. He has dedicated his unique intelligence and seemingly endless energy to work for a better world for all humanity. That means among other things to promote a more equal distribution of the world’s resources, which to a large extent are produced by the less prosperous and taken care of by the opulent. The distribution of resources is a core issue from which most other qualities in life derives, such as freedom from oppression of all kinds, not excluding war, extermination and other atrocities.

One of Chomsky’s unique contributions is his tireless search for important and often decisive facts that otherwise had remained buried in the forgotten archives. He then analyses the facts and circumstances with an uncompromising logic, leading to indisputable conclusions. This leaves his adversaries in a hopeless position when trying to find solid counter arguments. This has some boring and distasteful results in the debate.

To mention just one example, Chomsky was in 2007 awarded an honorary degree by the Uppsala University in Sweden. An American journalist, then working for a Swedish conservative think-tank, wrote an article in a tabloid, reiterating the usual slander to vilify Chomsky and declare him not worthy of an honorary degree (of which he by now has 40 or so from all around the world).

The standard attack from conservatives without valid arguments is to call people “liars”. This time the journalist presented as evidence of Chomsky’s “lies” a minor error in a book published in 1969. A citation in the book said to be by president Truman was in fact an almost verbatim paraphrase made by a commentator. This miniscule inaccuracy was corrected in the following edition. Nevertheless the same error has circulated over and over in attacks on Chomsky through the years.

Sometimes one is lead to think that extreme conservatives are so blinded by rage that they don’t realize the silliness of their arguments. Here we have an ocean of printed material and videotaped speeches by Chomsky to trawl for possible lies, and the best thing they can come up with is a 40 years old proofreading error! And they don’t see that a better verification of Chomsky’s reliability is hard to get! A perfect hit in the foot, undoubtedly.

Well, the vilifications are after all quite rare and come mostly from crazy extremists. The established method to cope with Chomsky’s inconvenient truths is to ignore him and to ban him from mainstream media. If someone would call it unfair censorship or something like that, he would be directed to Chomsky’s own important work on media issues, in which the procedure is described as completely normal and expected. Established media has an important role in substantiating the demands defined by power, and that role definitely excludes Chomsky’s findings. So it’s all very natural.

But truth is pervasive and persistent. Sooner or later the Chomsky analysis will be common knowledge, and it will not take four centuries (as the Vatican needed to accept Galilei’s nowadays self-evident truths). Noam Chomsky has given the world tools with which the future can be sensibly handled. But as he always says: It will not happen by itself. We have to organize!

2012-12-04 Tuesday
Now even Sweden has been “enriched” with a neo-fascist political party, coming from almost nowhere to reach 10 percent in polls and in just a few months becoming the country’s third largest party. The party is called the “Sweden Democrats” (SD), and was founded in 1988 by people from various nationalistic groups, some them with Nazi inclinations (among them the first chairman). SD has eventually washed off the worst brown dirt, the leaders put on jacket and tie, and the party gained some seats in the Parliament in 2010. As late as last week they had to exclude two top party board members who had appeared in a film armed with iron bars walking the streets shouting racist taunts at immigrants.

Even after a number of exposed scandals the party has gained increased support in polls. Of course our intelligentsia is puzzled, as always when the fundamental reasons for a phenomenon are things you aren’t expected to talk about. So for instance, one columnist (Emanuel Karlsten) in my daily writes today: “It’s of course silly claiming to understand why SD is growing after suffering scandals. But it can be important to see how and where the party finds its strength.”

The columnists answer is in short: the Internet. There SD’s members have their parallel world where they can regroup, find new arguments and come out more powerful than before. It is in fact “a strong evidence for how the Internet has given societal underbrush enough oxygen to grow and organize.” (One can’t help wondering why not all parties do the same, if the key to success is so easily obtained.)

To find a more substantial introduction to the problem one only has to turn page in the same paper and read a seven lines short note with the headline: “120 million in Europe are poor”, followed by: “One forth of EU citizens run the risk of ending up in poverty or social alienation”. Or one can recall a picture published by the same paper the other day, where they
constructed a nice correlation between notified layoffs in Sweden (red) and SD’s result in polls (yellow):

(A warning should be issued about the method: its not scientifically quite correct. But in substance the diagram probably says a lot.)

For those who don’t want to appear silly from not knowing anything, the world offers more explanations than ever before. Extreme right-wing political parties are growing like mushrooms in most countries that have suffered the severe economic problems initiated by the financial crash. The mechanism is well-known, has been demonstrated before and is not a mystery. On one earlier occasion it had disastrous consequences that we will never forget.

In the late 1920s Germany the economy was collapsing causing severe suffering not just for the poor but also for the middle class. The communist alternative was not an option, so there were no answers given or solutions suggested, until there came a charismatic man from Austria who delivered both. According to him the causes of the problems were the Jews and the Bolsheviks, and the solution was to get rid of them or as it turned out: exterminate them.

The Sweden Democrats have just one explanation to the growing economic problems: the immigrants, who take all the money and all the jobs. And the solution is consequently to stop immigration. This is the only answer that ordinary people hear, since our established intellectuals are unable to give the correct answers, which are about the economic system and its way of functioning.

Though the role of the uninhibited financial system and its unscrupulous actors in crashing economies around the world is crystal clear, and once in a while even mentioned, there is no workable solution even proposed to cope with the problem. It seems like the masters of mankind and their political mercenaries just wait for the catastrophe to come (when they not worsen things by forcing austerity on countries already on the brink of economic collapse).

To pass the time, it seems, the intellectuals conjure up stories to “explain” the basis for events, stories that couldn’t fool a bright child. Could it be that the role of intellectuals in our power system is to bring consolation to confused people who wait for something inevitable to happen? Or why else do they deliberately restrict their ability to analyze such obvious casual relationships as those we see today?


2012-12-01 Saturday
The struggle for a welfare state against opposing forces like the economically powerful has never been an easy matter. Olof Palme, for one, experienced the hostility on a very personal level. During his whole political life he was constantly under attack through slander, vicious rumors and extremely intimidating arguments delivered by the fancier people in society.

Born in a relatively wealthy family – both his mother and grandmother were of noble ancestry - Olof grew up in a privileged milieu in the most prestigious neighborhood in Stockholm. He spent the high school years in the Sigtuna boarding school (later known for also harboring the present Swedish king). He was in other words brought up in a solid bourgeois environment. But he was a bright young man who early acquired the habit of thinking independently.

At the age of 20 he spent a decisive year in USA (1947-48), first at Kenyon College in Ohio, then backpacking through 34 of the country's then 48 states. The year in the US gave him firm ties to America and formed his future thinking. Teachers with strong integrity at Kenyon College gave him a broad perspective on economics and political science. Only years later, though, his world view turned in a socialist direction. (His later protests against the Indochina war probably were accompanied by as much sorrow as anger.)

Two decades after his stay in America he became chairman of the Social Democrats, Prime Minister and eventually the internationally most well known and admired Swedish politician. Streets in cities around the world bear his name. But in Sweden his was vilified by the “fine” people in a grotesque way never experienced by any other politician in our history.

One popular notion is that the upper classes regarded him a class traitor and therefore couldn’t forgive him. A more natural view may be that he was a too clever adversary. Whatever the reasons he was certainly persecuted beyond any limit. It was a common “truth” in the fashionable parts of Stockholm that Palme was a drug addict and a mental patient. An urban myth of the format: “my wife knows a doctor that treats Palme…” was circulated frequently among the prosperous and noble people. Others “knew” that he was a Russian agent and that he had abandoned his children, just to mention some of the absurdities.

One specific accusation has become topical through a recent Swedish film, Call girl. The situation has an interesting similarity to the Assange-case in that it concerns a sex allegation. The film was per se based on a real incident, including a Minister who was involved with prostitutes, even under-aged girls. The events were reported as a security risk by the highest police authority to the government in a secret document (which later was leaked). Palme saved his minister by denying the very existence of the document, which the subservient media in those days accepted (it was in 1977), an act for which Palme later was rightly criticized.

In the aftermath of the affaire an under-aged girl had loosely mentioned the two most prominent politicians as costumers, one of which was Palme, both highly improbable participants in such actions and neither of course verified as such by any other indications or witnesses whatsoever. In the film Call girl Palme is in spite of that singled out as a man ordering sex services from a young girl. That is: his name isn’t mentioned in the film, but the character bears enough features for the viewer not to miss the identification. So, the denigration of Olof Palme goes on till this day.

Palme’s destiny simply confirms that the powerful
doesn't bear their swords in vain (and they have other, more subtle weapons as well). The most dangerous contenders must be crushed the hardest. This is what Julian Assange now experiences, meeting partly similar weapons as Palme, though of course much rougher.

2012-11-29 Thursday
Once upon a time we had in this country a Prime Minister who suffered from righteousness to such a high degree that he openly protested against the United States’ war of aggression in Indochina. In this regard he was a solitary head of government in the western world, and his strong moral standpoint brought about a serious diplomatic crisis between Sweden and the US. The PM’s name was Olof Palme, and the history has absolved him, even in established circles. Among ordinary Americans he was absolved long ago, proved by polls showing that a large majority considered the Vietnam War “fundamentally wrong and immoral”.

These days Palme would have been 85 years old, had he lived. But he was murdered walking home at night with his wife from a movie theatre on February 28, 1986. The killer was probably a local thug and drug addict without deeper political motives (acquitted on insufficient evidence by a higher court, and now dead). The following day, when the news spread, became a day that many Swedes will remember forever (our Kennedy moment, to borrow a parable from a tweet).

What Palme’s view on the Iraq War would have been is no hard guess. On his watch there wouldn’t have been any Swedish troops in Afghanistan engaged in military actions, breaking the 200 years of peace in this country. And there would certainly not have been such a disdainful circus as the one we now expose Julian Assange for.

So, Sweden has transformed quite significantly since Palme’s days. To examine how this came about, we could briefly look at the process that made the country a leading welfare state in the first place.

Relatively late in history Sweden was to a large extent an agricultural society, in many respects somewhat backward compared to continental Europe and England. But it turned out that Swedes were fairly industrious and had a potential for rationality, so when industrialization spread northwards during the 19th century things started to happen rather rapidly. After (deserting from) the Second World War, with an undamaged productive capacity, Sweden soon reached a top position in per capita income in the world and a definite lead in welfare politics.

The basis for the achievements, in both aspects, was laid by the strong worker’s organizations. Capital owners and the business community met this strength with reasonable willingness to compromise. Already in 1938 a fundamental agreement was reached between the two sides, setting a benchmark for decades to come. The unions thus accepted employer’s absolute authority over businesses in exchange for a fair share of the production result.

In accordance with its relative strength the workers movement could also place its representatives – the Social Democrats - in the government for more than forty years. But the strength was just relative. With the tradition of farmers only one generation away the industrial culture was not very deeply rooted in the society as a whole. In addition the rising prosperity nurtured a growing middle class of white collar workers with bourgeoisie views. As a consequence the majority for workers opinions and the Social Democrats was never overwhelming, in fact sometimes quite weak. So when the center-right parties in 1976 won their first election in decades it was not a great surprise.

The 1970s also meant the beginning of neoliberalism. After a seemingly considerable backlash for capitalism during the 60s and early 70s the economic powerful, who through their ownership of the worlds wealth still were in command, started to roll back all bothering interference from ordinary people, such as workers and students demanding economic democracy. One might perhaps say that the consequences of neoliberalism were not as severe in Sweden as in many other countries, thanks to the still comparatively strong unions. But the process has kept going in the anticipated direction, and the Swedish welfare state is now deteriorating.

Since 2006 our country has had a hard-core bourgeoisie government lead by the conservatives. Its actions are too deploring to list, but it suffices to say that Sweden no longer is the role model for solidarity and welfare it used to be, at that time feared and despised by reactionaries around the globe. In this process the leaders of the Social Democrats have drifted to the right, out of the silly imagination that their members and voters have forgotten the party’s fundamental values.

It has been said that Sweden culturally is one of the most Americanized countries in Europe. Now we are following suit also in dominant views on political issues. Accordingly the subservience to US interests by Swedish decision makers in their persecution of Julian Assange should be no surprise.

2012-11-26 Monday

Have just read through 102 pages of letters to Foreign Minister Carl Bildt released by Wikileaks. People from many countries are outraged by the maltreatment that the Swedish judicial system subjects Julian Assange to. They also disapprove of the aversion showed by leading politicians to do anything constructive to solve the “problem”. What puzzles writers of the letters the most is why the prosecutor’s office cannot send somebody to London to ask the questions needed. Some have found out that Swedish investigators have gone to foreign countries before to do just the same.

The answer the prosecutor gives to the question is too ludicrous to repeat, and the silliness is enforce by the fact that no sane legal expert thinks that there is enough substance in the case even for a charge, let alone that it will reach a court. To the question about the role of politicians we have had an interesting reply by Carl Bildt himself.

When Ecuador asked for guaranties that Julian Assange would not be extradited to the US, Carl Bildt answered (cited in Dagens Nyheter 8/18): “I cannot make any statements that constrain the judicial system in any way”, adding somewhat contemptuously: “and that I don’t think they [Ecuador] understand, if I shall be quite honest”, explained by the fact that “the principle of judicial independence is not that firmly rooted in Ecuador”.

Now Bildt is famous for his arrogance, but in this case he also relied heavily on the reader’s complete lack of memory. It so happened that only a short while before uttering his contempt for Ecuadorian principles, he had in the highest degree possible interfered as Foreign Minister in a legal issue, a civil matter at that. The case involved a German citizen who had a claim against the Russian state, a claim approved by a Swedish court. Russia refused to pay, and following the rules the Enforcement service decided to seize some real estate in Stockholm, owned by Russia.

In this delicate situation Carl Bildt writes an official letter to the Enforcement service demanding that they stop the seizure! This is the man who speaks about other countries not understanding fundamental principles! Well, as many of the letters regret: Sweden is no longer the role model it once was. In the past a modern and egalitarian welfare state, during Olof Palme’s era as well concerned with suffering and war-torn people in other countries, now deteriorated to a neoliberal dustbin. How this came about is something to reflect upon in a coming note.

2012-11-23 Friday
As readers of this webpage already know: Sweden’s leading daily newspaper is Dagens Nyheter (DN), published in Stockholm. It has a proud declaration printed every day in the page header:

DN is independent from all parties and organizations and acts in a humanistic tradition of enlightenment – for tolerance, democracy and a free economy.

In the European meaning of the word DN is a liberal paper. (By liberal we mean here roughly what John Stuart Mill formulated. A bourgeoisie view, but not conservative; some social awareness, but anti-socialist; in political terms: parties aiming at the middle class/white collar workers.)

Following the liberal tradition DN is a strong advocate of freedom of expression. Every dissident from the former Soviet bloc was unconditionally supported, as well on the editorial pages as in the newsroom. In these days important figures like Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng, Masha Gessen, the women in Pussy Riot and others with similar CVs are treated (rightly) with much publicity and respect.

It’s quite different with
dissidents like the 38 years old Luz Marina Paz, a journalist opposing the coup in 2009 that overthrew the democratically elected president in Honduras. She were among those on the “wrong” side, so when she was murdered on her way to work less than a year ago it was over and done with by a small note in DN. Luz Marina was just one of dozens of journalists murdered in Latin America only the last decade. Few of them even have a name in our media. Another dissident not worthy of DN's sympathy is Julian Assange.

Erik Helmerson is one of the enlightened guys who write editorials in DN. Two days ago he published a tweet saying:

“Chomsky: ‘Julian Assange shouldn’t be the subject of a grand jury hearing, he should be given a medal.’”

And yesterday the same tweet appeared in the page header in his paper’s editorial section. Since DN for years has run a harsh campaign against Assange, my first thought was that the editors suddenly had come to senses and had changed position. But to be sure I emailed Helmerson to find out if the citation was honestly meant. His answer was: “No, it should not be read without irony”. (I answered him somewhat cheeky: “OK. Now I have not read it without irony”.)

Well, DN has now vilified Julian Assange so thoroughly for years that they think such a blunt irony will be understood. I think they are mistaken. Apart from a few gender fanatics and some right wing extremists I believe a majority of Swedes support Assange. They are namely too familiar with “the humanistic tradition of enlightenment” not to welcome the courageous disclosures of the horrifying war crimes committed by the world's super power, disclosures that may have helped to shorten the war of aggression.

But Dagens Nyheter’s “tolerance” is reserved for the aggressor, not for the brave whistleblowers. The reverse is true only for specific kinds of governments and dissidents.

2012-11-22 Thursday
It seems that nowadays “everybody” - apart from some neoliberal economists and subservient politicians - is aware of the main mechanisms behind the financial crisis and its devastating effect on world economy. One fundamental basis for the latest crash, as well as all the others since the early 1970s, is the permission of banks to create money out of thin air. To produce money in your own garage is a serious crime, but to do the same thing in an even more simple way in a private bank is perfectly legitimate, indeed laudable and mainstream.

When banks grant loans they don’t have to be in real possession of the money they give away, it suffices to type some figures on a keyboard, and - presto - new money is born. As long as people have confidence in this imaginary process the banks make large profits, and when the inevitable crash comes the banks are saved by the taxpayers, who thus have to pay in both ends. Anyone with his head screwed on realizes that a system like this makes whole economies unstable. The others though, like the Chicago boys and their disciples around the world, prefer to believe in a dogmatic market religion and to blind themselves before the all too obvious reality.

As long as the Bretton Woods system was operative all industrial economies maintained mechanisms regulating the financial sector. This period is called the Golden Age since it coincided with high and egalitarian economic growth protected from financial crisis. From 1971 and on the relatively firm structure rusted away leaving increasing space to the financial sector, which has turned money away from productive use and into gambling activities. As expected, the world has since witnessed a number of economic collapses, one graver than the other.

As I began by saying it seems today common knowledge that the financial economy easily causes disaster for societies as a whole. So for instance could we watch this film (narration in English) on our Swedish public service television the other day (albeit not on a prime channel). Not long ago it would have been considered too much of a dissident film to display to the public. (We have to go back to the 1970s to find nonconformist films like this one in the public output.)

Renowned figures such as George Soros, Joseph Stiglitz and numerous others are warning the politicians of the world for a gruesome future unless serious actions are taken. In this country our leading editorial writer in the main paper has converted from strict neoliberalism and is now joining a majority of intellectuals in denouncing for instance the strangulation that EU is torturing Greece with. So it goes on, but without anything substantial happening to stop the march towards the cliff. For a Martian observer we all must look liked a herd of lemmings on our way to self destruction. Let’s ponder over this some coming day.

2012-11-20 Tuesday

Speaking of phony politics, the situation is not at all brilliant in this country either. Once upon a time we had a government by the people, using politics to create a civilized society with elementary welfare and societal cooperation. With the introduction of neoliberalism some thirty years ago the very notion of social care started to erode. Today the deconstruction of the Swedish welfare state is in full swing, together with deregulation and privatization of schools, health care, and a range of other activities which up till now had stayed in the public sector for generations (for the most part successfully, by the way).

A renowned research institute found some time ago that no evaluations of the effects of the privatizations had been conducted (that some of the privatizations had been failures was obvious for the naked eye). Already the simple observation that no studies of the effects were even carried out (implying that there perhaps were no positive effects) caused furor among the conservative elites, and the CEO of the institute got nervous. He muzzled the researcher who had presented the findings, which in turn fuelled an intense debate, ending with the CEO’s resignation.

What seems evident is that our right-wing government has no interest in the effects of their neoliberal politics, certainly not in the negative effects. The purpose of the total system change is simply to allocate as much of the society’s production result as possible at the top of the pyramid where the rich and the super rich are to be found. That such tricks are no vote-winners is nothing they are bothered by. They’ve got their time in the driver’s seat and the goal is to enforce as much of the system change as possible, with the hope that privatizations may be irreversible.

The reactionaries of the world may soon unite and hail the disappearance of the extreme Swedish welfare state which has frightened them for so long. Unless we - the others - wake up and do something about it. And there is a lot to do! The people of Europe are on the alert and the quite bizarre neoliberalism can’t survive forever.

2012-11-19 Monday
Another important event has occurred here in Sweden since last summer: the presidential election in the US. My newspaper was overflowing with articles about the event from the very beginning. One could believe that a very significant domestic election were to take place. Much interest was of course focused on the superficial phenomenon, like Romney’s blunders, Obama’s rhetoric promises, evil TV ads and things like that.

One observation an outside viewer could make was the frequent change of opinions accounted for by Mitt Romney, of which some views not corresponded very well with the traditional ones of his party. Another observation was that Barack Obama reiterated roughly the same luminous promises that he didn’t fulfill during his first term. Thus it all seemed like a charade aimed at winning an election, not a truthful declaration of political goals to achieve if the election was won.

In summary, old prejudices about US elections were reinforced. Two guys with similar educational background representing two fractions of the same business party were fighting for the presidency. Both financed by the same economic powers who naturally expect to be paid back in due time (something that we call crude corruption when it takes place in for instance China). It is therefore not surprising that actual politics really implemented by the candidates, regardless of which one of the fractions they represent, will show only marginal differences.

On the other hand it’s heartwarming to see the enormous efforts made by volunteers spending all their spare time on unpaid work, just for the wish to see their candidate win the presidency. This gives hope that they someday will be able to work for a candidate really of there own, a candidate who is primarily responsible to his or her constituency and only secondarily reporting to the rulers of the business world.

2012-11-18 Sunday

Let’s see what has happened in Sweden since August. For one thing the debate on the Assange case has faded out. Indirectly though, some repercussions on the case can be registered in that a key figure has been profoundly compromised in another affair. The man in question is Claes Borgstrom, a legal adviser to the women in center of the accusations against Julian Assange. Borgstrom had a central role also in the Quick scandal, which we have mentioned earlier. (To top it all he has been the Ombudsman for Gender Equality in this country!)

A journalist named Hannes Raastam had done a thorough and profound study of the whole legal procedure leading to eight murder sentences for Thomas Quick (who had confessed some twenty additional murders). Raastam found the most unbelievable defects in the criminal investigations, including manipulations by the police, hided interrogation reports and outright fraud. Quick was a mental patient, obviously confessing to become a more interesting patient and, according to himself, because the therapists provided him with unrestricted amounts of psychotropic drugs as long as he confessed.

Referring to the distrust Quick had experienced regarding his confessions, which many people already very early had started to dispute, he decided to stop cooperating with the investigators (and nothing was ever known about the remaining twenty “murders” he had confessed).  Having been silent for seven years he was approached by Raastam for an interview. After some time of dialogue with Raastam Quick decided to withdraw his confessions.

Raastam first produced a TV-film on the scam and then wrote a book which was released this year, after Raastam’s death from cancer. The book discloses a mindboggling legal scandal, probably without comparison in Swedish modern history. In this scandal Claes Borgstrom plays the role of Quick’s lawyer, billing the tax payers almost one million dollar for doing nothing. His excuse is that he as a lawyer had to follow his client’s will. But he still claims that Quick was convicted quite correctly.

The proportions of the scandal have brought attention to the book internationally, and publication in ten different countries is underway. A film based on the book is also discussed. Together with the Assange case it gives the Swedish legal system a devastating blow to its credibility and sanity.

2012-11-17 Saturday
This page has been slumbering for a while, but was awaken by a thousand more visitors yesterday, all of a sudden. It turned out that the twitter account @wikileaks had linked to this page due to its coverage of the Assange-affaire. Such encouraging interest must be properly met, and I shall restart to write my postcard notes tomorrow.

By till then!

2012-08-17 Friday
The looong Swedish holiday has passed, and we were awaken by a news report.

Yesterday the Chinese news channel CCTV reported extensively on the Assange story and the asylum granted to him by the Ecuadorian government. Among the reasons for the asylum Ecuadorian officials declared that Sweden on explicit request refused to offer any guarantee that Assange will be safe from extradition to the US, and that there are doubts about the possibility for a fair trial in Sweden on the sex charges.

This widespread coverage places Sweden in focus of world attention in a rather uncomfortable manner. Naturally our right wing media fights off insinuating doubts about the magnificence of our legal system and our moral standards. In that process they happen to sacrifice any concern for Julian Assange and his personal safety. The demand for guarantees regarding the possible extradition is called “irrelevant” by our most important paper, Dagens Nyheter.

Self adulation is of course an epidemic among leaders (and leading newspapers) of most nations, but the Swedish variant is as usual among the more naïve. Not many years ago our government, Social democratic at that, helped CIA secretly deliver two innocent (i.e. not tried in a court) alleged terrorists in an airplane from a Swedish airport to torture chambers in Egypt. This was of course a crime according to our law, and completely immoral. The operation leaked afterwards and caused some indignation, but was soon buried without any sanctions.

One could argue that it would be politically impossible for Sweden to extradite Assange given the turmoil it would cause. But a man who is explicitly threatened with a death penalty by prominent and empowered Americans can’t possibly be expected to rely on such weak assurances. As for his likely destiny in the US we may just contemplate the enduring torture that Bradley Manning was treated with.

There happen to be two more dissident affaires engaging Dagens Nyheter these very days: The Pussy Riots in Russia and Ai Weiwei in China, both charged by courts in their respective countries. That the charges are politically motivated holds without doubt in our media, for good reasons. Our love for democracy and freedom of expression compels us to vigorously defend the accused and condemn the evil politicians that certainly lay behind the charges. But a dissident like Assange, who has disclosed war crimes committed by the US, is viewed in a totally different way. In regarding his case all the important freedoms suddenly evaporates and the dubious sex charges becomes sacrosanct.

It should be remembered that the first prosecutor who evaluated the facts in the Assange sex affair, a female prosecutor by the way, immediately dropped the case as insignificant. But when some “gender specialists” hooked their claws into the case things started to happen. Among the “specialists” were a lawyer named Claes Borgstrom. In these very days this man is revealed in a book as one of the main responsible figures in the probably worst legal scandal in the country’s history. (He represented as a lawyer a man convicted of eight murders and confessing many more. It turned out that the “murderer” was a drugged mental patient, who was manipulated by the investigators to confirm his "deeds", assisted in this self-accusation by Borgstrom. In retrospect the whole operation gives the impression of occult séances.)

Freedom of expression is by many considered to be the jewel in the crown in our political system. When this jewel so easily can be sacrificed for ideological submission to the super power, what then is left of our worshipped system?

2012-07-04 Wednesday
Mainstream newspapers here have a remarkably high interest in China. Editorials and other articles occur frequently, all presenting approximately the same and anticipated picture of the world’s most populated country. What interest them are primarily the deficiencies in human rights and the authoritarian actions by the monolithic ruling party. To some extent there is also a reluctant admiration for the remarkable economic development.

My paper reviewed the other day two new books (with old content) on the subject, this time the historical misdeeds and serious errors for which Mao Zedong was responsible. Much research in the West has been dedicated to determine how many millions died from famine and terror under Mao’s rule. But is this profound interest really based on honest sympathy for the Chinese poor masses?

One well respected economist and Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, has shown that the consequences of the political and economical system in India are far more lethal than that in China. Since 1950 some 100 million people more have died unnecessarily in India compared with China, due to differences in political systems. This fact is never even mentioned in our media and the situation for the poor in India is over all scarcely considered. It’s ingeniously arranged so that the billions of victims of capitalism have no one to make responsible.

This simple comparison reveals what’s obvious for any undisturbed person: our right wing media’s “interest” in China is based purely on politics and propaganda, not on considerations for the poor Chinese. In fact, they couldn’t care less about suffering people in poor countries. The very suggestion to care about others is something that should be driven out of people’s heads. That’s the firm foundation for their big “interest” in China. (Benevolence is designated to specific social sectors such as churches and charities, but must be fiercely fought in politics.)

Of course there is no excuse for the unnecessary victims of Mao Zedong’s brutal and ludicrous ideas. Without them China probably would have been an even more luminous role model for the developing world, and thus an even larger threat to the west’s ambitions to dominate the globe.

Constantly reiterated are discussions on the massacre in
Tiananmen Square in 1989, after 23 years still in centre of the discourse on China. Is this an indication that we have compassion for students and other people fighting for democracy and human rights against a dictatorial regime? Again there is a simple test for the possible truth of this self admiration.

Just nine years before the occurrences in Tiananmen Square there was a completely equivalent uproar in a place called Gwangju. Young people protested against a harsh military dictatorship, demanding democracy and human rights. The protests spread and ended with a massacre in which between 1000 and 2000 people were killed by the dictator’s armed henchmen. In proportionate comparison these killings were maybe 10 000 times more bloody than those in Tiananmen Square. But in my country at least, no one has ever heard of a place called Gwangju.

That place is namely situated in South Korea, whose military dictatorship was heavily supported by western powers in all ways: diplomatic, economic and military. USA had a large military contingent in that country, and still has. Thus we can conclude one important circumstance: we are mainly interested in misdeeds performed by governments who try to include some kind of egalitarian elements into their politics.

The Gwangju massacres, by the way, are considered to be the starting point for the democratic development in South Korea, a process that obviously could have been commenced many years earlier. But as usual the western powers preferred a stable dictatorship which obeyed orders, instead of a risky democracy.

But let’s leave it for today and go back to the simple and stupidified world our media creates for us. We, the most effectively propagandized creatures in human history.

2012-06-20 Wednesday
Coming Friday is Midsummer's Night, the real National Day in Sweden. In this secular country it's also the most important holiday. If you have to work on Christmas Eve it's bad enough, but to work on Midsummer's Eve is a catastrophe. After this holy day comes the sacrosanct Swedish vacation period, the short summer for which we endure the sinister winter time.

The writings on this site will probably be even more sporadic then before during the summer. Time and inspiration will decide the frequency of new texts. On Twitter (@LarsSchaff) I'll give a hint when there is something new on the page.

Have a nice summer! (To those in the northern hemisphere, of course.)

2012-06-12 Tuesday
I haven’t yet mentioned a recent domestic mega story with no real significance, namely that Sweden has been enriched with a new heir to the throne, a girl christened Estelle, the name traceable to a bright American girl, a daughter of the millionaire Edward Manville. The Manville daughter Estelle was a slender, handsome and dark haired young girl 23 years old when she met the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, 10 years older. They fell in love and married after just a short time.

Folke was a nephew to the Swedish King Gustav V, but not an heir to the throne. He and Estelle lived for a while in the US, but then moved to Sweden. They had four sons, of which two died at a young age, tragedies that struck Estelle heavily. But she strived on in her new cold homeland, took care of the family and supported her husband in his different engagements.

The so called “White buses” made Folke Bernadotte renowned even outside his home country for a few years. He inspired and led an operation in which almost 20 000 Scandinavian prisoners in Nazi concentration camps were saved in early 1945, many of them Jews. His achievement was thus comparable to that attained by Raoul Wallenberg, but his reputation has no similarity at all to the Wallenberg sainthood. The two were namely killed by different types of criminals. Today Bernadotte is almost forgotten, while Wallenberg is the eternal hero, repeatedly praised, just recently by Barack Obama.

In the spring of 1948 Bernadotte accepted a proposal from the United Nations to become mediator to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He was soon considered too dangerous by Zionist extremists and on September 17th 1948 he was murdered by the Stern Gang in Jerusalem. One of the terrorists that approved of the murder – Yitzhak Shamir - later became Prime Minister of Israel. The man who fired the gun – Yehoshua Cohen – became lifeguard and friend of the renowned David Ben-Gurion.

Sweden never seriously confronted Israel with responsibility for the murder; the affair was buried in the memory hole. In contrast the Wallenberg destiny of being killed in a Soviet prison in 1947 has never ceased to engage media and politicians here and in many other parts of the world. (So, for the sake of your reputation after death, remember to be killed by the right kind of assassins.)

The new Estelle Bernadotte’s father, Daniel Westling, is a commoner raised in the small village of Ockelbo and a former personal trainer to the Crown princess. Estelle will eventually succeed her mother Victoria, who will become Queen when her father, Carl XVI Gustaf, 66, dies or resigns. The Bernadottes are famous for becoming very old, and a growing number of people want to free Estelle from the silly job by reshaping the country into a republic before that question is relevant. Anyhow, the odds that the world will look very different when that day comes are very low.

In the meantime let’s remember the admirable Estelle Manville/Bernadotte, and through her the unjustly forgotten Folke, the only male member of the Bernadotte family who has done something substantial for the good of mankind.

2012-06-06 Wednesday
This happens to be the Swedish National Day, but it became a holiday just a few years ago. There is not much celebration and the theme for today will be something else.

The Julian Assange case has now been decided by the Supreme Court in Britain, with the verdict that he shall be extradited to Sweden at the request of a Swedish prosecutor. Here a layer, yearning for fame, together with a feminist prosecutor, succeeded in finding some kind of sex crimes, including rape, allegedly committed by Assange against two women who kindly invited him to bed, and bragged about it afterwards. The world is probably puzzled by the Swedish sex legislation, if not laughing with disdain.

Assange has been restricted by house arrest in Britain for a year and a half now, and even more delay is expected. His attorneys have pointed at a passage in the verdict where the court bases parts of its decision on conditions in the Vienna Convention, which hadn’t been subject to deliberations during the procedures. The Court has given the attorneys two weeks to elaborate on their objection, during which time there will be no extradition.

The new development is obviously very unusual, and a legal expert on BBC comments that it would be embarrassing if the Supreme Court should be forced to reopen the case. Since the objection is more procedural than substantial, the hope for a different outcome is reasonably miniscule, though.

About the outcome of the legal procedure here in Sweden most commentators agree. Regardless of the unique laws it’s a weak case, and it will probably not even reach the court. The important question is what then follows. Here all kinds of experts are speculating about whether Assange will be extradited to USA, and most of them reject that possibility. First of all such action requires consent from the UK, since he will be sent from there to Sweden for very specific purposes. Others argue that USA would have demanded extradition already from UK, if they had had such interests.

Much speculation, but no one poses any question. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited Sweden this week, but she was (to my knowledge) spared any questions on this high profile issue. Nor have our Prime minister been bothered by such inconveniences. Journalists in the right wing papers have adopted a cool and critical attitude to their colleague Assange, not adhering to their usual professional loyalty. Politics before trade, one may suppose.

The outcome will one day be evident. What we know for a fact is that high officials in the US have accused Julian Assange of serious crimes, threatening life sentence or worse. This background makes the attitudes by journalists and others here utterly cynical and inhuman. Not to speak of their disregard for freedom of expression.

2012-06-04 Monday
Back from a trip to Paris the reservoir of continental experiences and emotions has been refilled again. For a tourist, life in Paris is like a film written and directed by Woody Allen. Restaurants in the back streets down in La Butte aux Cailles, for instance, with their small chairs and tables all in different shapes, and food with the incomparable French goût. It’s a set made for the most romantic tourism…

That is, tourism for the world’s middle classes (those of us that came out safe from the finance crash, nota bene). In Paris the class divide is flagrant, with people everywhere trying to make a living from begging, playing street music, selling tourist crap, trying outright tricks etcetera. In a way it reminded me of a visit as a sailor to Port-au-Prince in 1959, where young men dived from small boats to pick up coins tossed into the water by laughing passengers from the aft deck 15 meters up. In Haiti not much has changed, and in Paris the situation looked on surface worse than on all my previous visits there since the 1970s.

The world as a whole produces probably twice as much as 30-40 years ago, but the problem of poverty is yet not solved. There is progress in some areas, but where neoliberalism has ruled, the misery has spread among the poorest, as expected. Since production no longer is the critical obstruction, economy is to a large extent a matter of distribution. This would seem to be a minor problem to solve in a functioning democracy, yet no one dares even to make the right proposals. It’s a wonderful world…for us! And even more wonderful for a miniscule part of the richest one percent who takes care of the main part of the worlds growing wealth. So far wonderful, but it will probably change due to the law of rational gravity.

2012-05-27 Sunday
A longer break than usual is planned on this site. Back Monday 4th of June.

2012-05-23 Wednesday
As I’ve mentioned earlier we are blessed here with David Brooks’ columns now and then in our No 1 newspaper, Dagens Nyheter (our tiny analogue to The New York Times). It’s very educational to read his columns, among other things because it makes the cultural differences between the Old and the New world rather clear (and in a dystopian sense it sometimes gives a hint of what kind of future we may expect here in the Old world).

In his column this Monday Brooks makes a neatly designed description of the birth of democracy in which he ignores some of the more simple and important facts. For instance that in those days the rich and powerful (and their philosophers) took it for granted that ordinary people, in case of real democracy, would vote to confiscate property and land and divide it among themselves. Therefore the powerful tried to restrict democracy as much as possible with all kinds of limitations, but had to retreat step by step due to popular struggle, in a process that took many years.

When democracy finally gave everybody the right to vote (at least formally) it turned out that people wasn’t as greedy as the rich and powerful had thought (judging from their own greed probably). Or rather, they were susceptible for all kinds of propaganda that made them believe that they lived in the best world possible, and therefore made them passive and obedient.

Although this background is distorted by Brooks, he goes on to claim that people now have been spoiled by politicians and regard their wishes as rights. They therefore live beyond their means. This, he says, is the very basis for the economic problems in Europe and USA. And that’s just wonderful!

After almost four decades of neoliberal rule in both USA and Europe the number of poor has multiplied, the living standard for ordinary workers has stagnated or declined, while the rich have enriched themselves enormously, and the super rich have hit the stratosphere in terms of wealth. To be blaming the hardworking people for today’s situation is worse than embarrassing.

As for people living beyond their means there are a few “minor” factors to consider. For instance that banks are shoveling out loans to people who obviously cannot pay the costs, because the banks can’t lose. The taxpayers take care of the inevitable losses when that day comes, and until then the banks make tons of money for profit. Another factor is the almost insane propaganda machinery that hammers into people’s heads that they must buy, buy and buy. In an atmosphere created by such overwhelming forces people certainly have few options.

Today's situation was crucially catalyzed by the financial crisis, entirely created by an unscrupulous finance industry fully controlled by the rich and powerful. Brooks is right in blaming politicians for handing out to much money for different purposes. What governments instead should have been doing is to restrict and regulate the completely immoral finance sector of the economy. And a number of other kind deeds of the same sort.

For David Brooks the problem is simply a question of private moral. People should restrain their wishes and stop demanding benefits from the politicians. “Moral” is a perfect concept for the flatterers of the court, since it can be directed towards the harmless people who loses their jobs, homes, insurances and pensions. The rich cannot live beyond their means; it is by definition impossible.

2012-05-17 Thursday
Judging from the coverage by our media one of the most interesting individuals nowadays is Ai Weiwei. Since my dear readers cannot have missed him it should be superfluous to mention that he is a Chinese artist and dissident, well-known in all of the “free world”. My newspaper has frequent articles and editorials about him, all of them of course sympathetic. He is after all a dissident working for democracy in a dictatorship.

We learn that Ai Weiwei is subjected to all kinds of harassments by Chinese authorities: imprisonment, house arrest, censorship and other atrocities. He meets these persecutions with non-violent actions, and is naturally worth all our support.

But could it be true that we champion him because he is a dissident against an unpleasant regime? Are we that noble? Well, already on the surface it is obviously logically impossible. In our part of the world, say for instance in Latin America, dissident have been shot dead in multitudes for decades, often by troops armed and trained by democratic states, without as much as a raised eyebrow among our journalists. This is in fact still going on. In Honduras, for example, almost twenty journalists have been murdered since the undemocratic coup in 2009, many of them for political reasons (in addition to the democratic activists shot during the coup).

The conclusion must be that we support some dissidents but not all, and not those that are treated most brutally. Then our interest could have to do with China being a particularly horrible place and hence deserving our full attention. China is a dictatorship, no doubt, but what about the other horrors? It turns out that the well-known economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has made a comparison between democratic India and communist China with regard to economic policy and the consequences thereof for the populations.

Amartya Sen concludes that the differences in economic distribution between the two countries account for a substantial divergence in survival rate. For the period since 1949 it means that India has suffered about 100 million premature deaths which wouldn’t have occurred had India had the same economic policy as China, and the same distribution of the country’s production. Now the question arises whether the superior Chinese way of caring for the people has required a communist dictatorship with its lack of freedom for the people. Hopefully it would be possible to create a state that cares about its citizens even in a democratic world. This must be our strong conviction.

But let’s for a moment adopt the Chinese view and treat the reality as it happens to be. If the Chinese way of doing things saves a hundred million lives, is there a moral dilemma when people try to change the system and possibly risk some of those lives? There’s obviously a menace that Ai Weiwei’s right to express himself without fearing house arrest or worse things, may in the other end cause premature deaths among poor people. What is in that case the acceptable moral trade-off between the two cases? Since this is a distasteful question we usually solve it by totally neglecting the survival rate in our economic system and consider it a non-question.

We must hope and strive for a world where poor people will survive without the help of a dictatorship, just as we must work in our own democratic societies for the deconstruction of an inhuman system that doesn’t care much about poor people at all.

2012-05-14 Monday
This day a century ago the most brilliant Swedish author in all history died. His dramas are still played all over the world. In his own country his novels, essays and other writings are just as important as his dramas. He created sole handedly the modern Swedish written language, up till then laden with a German heritage of long sentences and complicated structures. The author in question simply transformed - though in a genius manner - the more casual, verbal Swedish into its written variant, and that immediately became the norm.

His name was August Strindberg, apart from being an outstanding writer also a controversial and rabid radical in his younger years. The opinion about him was therefore split between political positions, and still is to a large extent. But his superiority on the whole cannot be questioned. When kids are studying literature in school they are usually handed his more uncontroversial literary work.

Strindberg became the workers’ author, a man of the people. The day of his funeral some 60 000 men and women followed his coffin to the cemetery in Stockholm. Considering that the total population in the capital in those days was 370 000, it was an impressing manifestation, showing the coming strength of the really democratic movement that after some decades resulted in the welfare state, admired by many.

The favorite plays by Strindberg on international stages are Miss Julie, The Father and The Dream play. If one of them turns up in your neighborhood, I recommend a visit to the theatre!

By the way, Strindberg was also a prominent painter, an expressionist forerunner, with his painting nowadays sold for millions of dollars.

2012-05-13 Sunday
We’ve recently had our own light version of the Norwegian murderer in Malmoe, in the south of Sweden. His case is on trial now, and the evidence seems convincing. He is charged with the killing of three people and with ten attempted murders in a number of shootings with handguns. He is also investigated for earlier shootings where the perpetrator wasn’t found.

Almost all his victims were people with foreign descent, and he has consequently been openly praised by the Norwegian mass murderer (we treat our monsters with dignity here in the Nordic countries; they are provided with a courtroom and an audience to propagate their lunatic ideas). Bullets found on the crime scene match the many different weapons the suspected killer possessed, thus it seems a clear case.

The suspected man is a 38 year old Swede. On searching his home the police found printed material indicating his hatred for immigrants. They also found references to a former murderer of the same kind, called “the Laser Man” since he used a laser sight on his shotgun. This man created fear in Stockholm for a couple of years in the beginning of the 1990s. He succeeded in killing one and wounding ten people before he was caught; all his victims were immigrants.

We live in an atomized society where all forms of solidarity are deliberately dismantled by the power structure as a whole. The weapon is called neoliberalism and it is enforced in the one single purpose to enrich the really rich and empower the mercenaries who conduct the war against people in need. Everyone is left on there own; thus only the strong, healthy, well educated and employed can expect decent survival, as long as they incidentally keep lucky in all these respects. The rest are left with their grievances and misery, susceptible for all kinds of simple suggestions, like “we should get rid of all the immigrants” and other non-solutions gladly provided by the ultra right movements.

Well, there are important things to work for, no doubt! If we have come this far in the “paradise” called Sweden, it doesn’t look good for the world. But, the fight is going on, and there are no reasons for the people ever to give up!

2012-05-11 Friday

The case against the Norwegian terrorist has been on for a while in an Oslo court. Shocking testimonies and autopsy reports have awaken the horrendous memories that relatives and friends of the 77 victims, who mostly were young boys and girl, have to live with for the rest of their lives. The perpetrator appears cool and conscious and still thinks he’s heading a war against Islam and Marxism, and those countrymen he thinks are promoting these “enemies”. There is no sign of mental illness in his behavior, not more than in Hitler who had the same kind of obsession about Jews and Marxists.

Here in Sweden the court case has initiated a debate about the connection between descent right-wing politics and Breivik’s manifesto. Our conservative pundits are appalled by the insinuations that their political ideals could have anything to do with the manifesto and they are desperately fighting off any such accusation. This is an interesting situation since “guilt by association” is a weapon the right-wingers have used for decades against their political opponents.

So, for instance, the former leader of the small Left wing party in the Parliament, Lars Ohly, insisted for some time to call himself a communist. By that he referred to Marx’ ideas of solidarity and a kind of democracy that also included the economic sphere, and things like that. But for people to the right he had tied himself to Stalin’s terror and other atrocities which automatically connected to the word “communist” for them. Finally Ohly had to skip the communist label.

Now the conservatives have to face a mass murderer who testifies that he committed the murders in the name of militant conservatism (and calls himself a Christian at that). In a thought-provoking article our most well-known left wing intellectual, Göran Greider, pointed at the fact that ideologies tend to “leak into extremism”, and that this goes for conservatism as well. We should also be aware of the role neoliberalism plays in this radicalization of right-wing politics.

Of course people on the right side are trying to defend themselves. In a weak case arguments tend to be somewhat frantic and thus not very well thought through. We'll see if there will be some kind of awakening and any reflections about the responsibility we all have for creating a social atmosphere in which terrorists like Breivik will find no air to breathe.

2012-05-09 Wednesday
The two main figures in Swedish politics had their first public debate on television the other day. On the one side we had the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Stefan Löfven (Lofven for those who lack “ö” on their screen), a man who really started his career from scratch as a postman and then as a welder for sixteen years. On the other side the Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, a political broiler who never had a descent job in his life.

Löfven’s talent as a leader was picked up early by the union where he worked as a welder. After ten years of union work Löfven was elected chairman of one of the country’s most important worker’s organization, the Metalworker’s Union. This was in 2005, and today he is the leader of the largest political party in the country.

In the debate Löfven was prudent, a bit slow, calm and quite uninspiring. From Reinfeldt’s mouth, on the other hand, words dripped like peas in an endless row. We saw an amateur against a full-fledged politician. A high official in Reinfeldt’s party twittered in triumph and collected the victory in advance.

Then came the poll among viewers. It turned out that Löfven had an easy victory by some 60 percent. What is the lesson to learn from that? Well, first of all that politicians often underestimate ordinary people. The smooth talk that flows without resistance just reminds people of TV ads and all these salesmen; it just lacks reliability. A person, who gives you the impression of a real human being with normal shortcomings but with a real message, is far more credible.

I believe that a politician like Stefan Löfven is unthinkable in high-level politics in the US. The pitching mentality there is so deeply rooted that anything diverging from the advertising style is disqualified. That’s probably one reason why people feel alienated and to a large degree doesn’t care about elections. We have been heading in the same direction here too for some years, and Löfven therefore stands for a promising break of trends. We’ll see how long it prevails.

2012-05-05 Saturday
A former prominent Minister in a previous Social Democratic government has deserted and joined the enemy as new CEO of the Swedish Bank Association, a certainly well-paid job. Such transformations are no big deal in the US, where politics more or less is a part of the business community, but in Sweden it has been routine only among right-wing politicians. Social Democrats have traditionally kept to the public sector after their political career, probably because their political beliefs were too deeply rooted as convictions. Business people probably thought the same, and had no demand for them.

The former minister’s name is Thomas Östros, and he belonged to the so called “renewers” within the party, those who tried to steer politics towards the center, that is to the right. He has now in his personal choice revealed his true sentiments and these where not of a social democratic kind.

The strategic failure these “renewers” fell victims of, was the idea that there could be space for another bourgeoisie party with some socially conscious decorations in the fringe. There are already (at least) three of that kind, none of them very successful. The fundamental flaw was that the Stockholm based group of “renewers” had insufficient knowledge about the feelings of Social democrats around the vast country.

The new chairman Stefan Löfven is tactically more experienced, and he will not make the same detrimental mistakes his predecessors did. We are looking forward to a bright summer, and are now enjoying sharply rising numbers in the polls for the Soc.Dems.

2012-05-02 Wednesday
Yesterday we suddenly had descent temperature and a shining sun in this little town called Lysekil on the Swedish west coast. Thus the tougher half of the year has passed and we’ll be living on the bright side of life for a couple of months.

The warmth came on the right day at that, May 1st, the International Worker’s Day, which most of the world celebrates, with the exception of USA where it all started. It was after the Haymarket massacres in Chicago in 1886 that May Day became the Worker’s Day. Then, in fear of riots and uproar, demonstrations on that day was banned by US authorities, and May 1st was turned into Law Day instead. But in the rest of the world the Worker’s Day is celebrated almost everywhere, regardless of social and religious differences.

Here May 1st is a holiday and the Social Democrats and other left wing parties arrange marches and speeches in almost every city and municipality. This year there was a go-ahead spirit and many participants in the demonstrations, in some part probably due to the grievances created by the right-winger’s unbelievable blunders and all the scandals surrounding the privatizations of healthcare and schools.

There is a definite feeling that even those who voted for this government more or less have had it. The bourgeois papers are joining the hunt and gladly expose the horrible consequences of the present policy. But we have to wait until 2014 to see a new government, and how long we have to wait for a real change in politics nobody knows.

2012-05-01 Tuesday

Soup kitchens are appearing in Sweden. This picture (from Aftonbladet 2012-03-17) shows a line-up to a soup kitchen outside the Sancta Clara Church in Stockholm.

- Soup kitchens in “
The most successful society the world has ever known” (Polly Toynbee)!

- Soup kitchens in a country admired by many progressives around the world.

- Soup kitchens in a country despised by many reactionaries around the world.

- Soup kitchens in the Paradise or in Hell, a paradox in both cases.

And all this achieved mainly by one right-wing government in less than six years; at a time when the country as a whole is richer than it has ever been.

Forty years ago there where no soup kitchens in Sweden, and we were then convinced that such symbols of poverty were forever consigned to history. But now it’s reality, a really sad reality.

“Interesting if rather depressing tale”, Noam Chomsky wrote me when I had described the destruction carried out by the present government. But he also wrote “… the game is never over. Have to just keep trying. Things can change.”

Yes, it certainly will!

2012-04-30 Monday

The scandals perpetually popping up from the actions by our right-wing party (“The Moderates”) have reached a level and frequency that even our center-right newspapers obviously think has passed the limit, and therefore have taken initiative to expose. They may have given up hope about the future of the present government, and therefore are taking the opportunity to sell some extra copies of their papers instead.

One old but renewed scandal is about the selling of a publicly owned health center in Stockholm a few years ago. The whole center, lock, stock and barrel, was given away to some of the doctors for the symbolic sum of § 0.1 million, allegedly covering the inventories. Profits already the first year amounted to three times as much as the purchase price, and after a couple of years the clinic was sold for § 7 million.

Money is a sensitive issue in Sweden (sex is not, in total contrast to USA). The renewed interest in the matter arose when the purchase price became public. Journalists tried to get comments from politicians responsible for the original deal, but that only created new heat. It turned out that nobody wanted to comment on anything. Some simply referred to the fact that they had left politics, some made themselves unavailable, and some still just hung up the phone. Recordings of the phone calls, broadcasted one after the other displayed a comic tragedy performed by the politicians.

Sweden has had center-right governments for just five terms during the whole post-war period. The first two ended in self-destruction, the third in paralysis after complete incompetence in dealing with a recession. The present one is the first to survive a full term with dignity, and thus win an election for a second term. But now we see the usual signs in the sky. The Prime Minister is mostly silent, the government is without ideas. The only reform they could agree on lately was a VAT reduction for restaurants!

The opposition has a lead in opinion polls. This time most people believe that the lead will last onto and beyond the next election in 2014. We’ll see!

2012-04-15 Sunday

The killing of
Trayvon Martin has brought much attention here, too. In a way it’s a sign of growing moral awareness that so many people in USA and in the world have reacted towards such a senseless act. Not many years ago the shooting of a black youngster, even if he was totally innocent, hadn’t raised an eyebrow in USA, and mostly not reported here. By each year the world gradually gets more civilized, the speed varying from place to place. There are certainly also setbacks, and the threat of a major crash is always present. But the progress calls for optimism and gives more energy to the struggle for further improvement.

The number of deaths as a result of external violent actions of some kind has steadily decreased in Sweden (probably since the time of the Vikings, when manslaughter was an epidemic). Last year 80 people were killed by violence here. Relative to population that would amount to 1 030 deaths in USA, where the actual figure for homicide alone is more than 18 000.

Still there are positive signs and ongoing civilizing advances. It’s a political process, though, and requires engagement and organization. If you have a computer: listen to Noam Chomsky and get inspired!

2012-04-12 Thursday

My regular paper had tragic news on Wednesday last week. It was another school shooting, this time in California, with seven people killed and three seriously injured. Many of the similar tragedies have taken place in USA, but have anyhow attracted much attention here because of the dreadful consequences and the significance for the future development of our societies.

Thus this kind of news used to appear on the front pages, and lead to discussion and follow-ups. Surprisingly the article this time was found just on page 16, and hasn’t led to further debate so far.

We thought perhaps that these tragedies were a specific US type of events, due in large part to liberal gun laws. Then we got the most horrible killings one can imagine… in peaceful Norway, and all prejudices had to be completely revised.

Could it be that a kind of “inflation” in dreadfulness have distorted our perspectives after the Norwegian horrors, and made us less indignant than before as we learn about these shootings? That would be a deplorable development, since these catastrophes tell us a lot of the defects in the society’s most important functions.

We must realize that the western style capitalist societies produce these atomized and alienated individuals as part of its regular way of functioning. If we cannot transform our societies in the direction towards more cooperation and less atomization the shootings and other anti-social deeds will go on.

2012-04-05 Thursday

There is a man called Stephen Sackur, “guilty” of some notorious interviews on BBC in a show with the congenial name Hard Talk. Surfing on the Internet the other day I stumbled upon one of these shows, in which he was supposed to steamroll over Hugo Chávez. It’s a question, though, which of the two hit the hardest.

Sackur was a guest at Venezuela’s presidential palace, yet he started the conversations saying: “Welcome to Hard Talk”, as if he was the actual host. Chávez replied with a friendly smile: “Welcome to Casa Fuerte!”. From then on Sackur continued, not just in the aggressive style normal to such interviews, but in a patronizing tone signaling that he really didn’t take Chávez quite seriously.

The question of democracy turned up, and Chávez got the opportunity to point out that he had been elected president three times (in undisputedly fair elections, by the way), and even once reinstated by the people after a military coup. To this Sackur replied in a somewhat demeaning way that “democracy is more than about just winning elections”, and brought up some of the standard cases of alleged violations of human rights, cherished by the local elite and the right-wing western media.

(It’s certainly probable that there might be real facts behind these accusations, but the actual truths are not easy to find out in a heated media atmosphere as that in Venezuela today. And those western media and politicians now hypercritical towards Chávez had (oddly enough) not much to say about the far more outrageous oppression practiced by former governments in the same country.)

Without saying that democracy is more than just winning public relation contests, Chávez took the opportunity to declare what democracy above all shouldn’t be, namely waging wars, illegitimate and immoral wars, killing hundreds of thousands of people, foremost innocent human beings. And he didn’t hesitate to name the guilty offenders. Sackur listened with a controlled expression on his face, probably confident that his viewers would regard this as ordinary socialist tantrum, thus not very dangerous to broadcast.

But for anybody really listening seriously to this interview, our
ineradicable western colonial underbrush was really exposed by Sackur in a thought-provoking way. So, if the liberating, popular and democratic wave we now see sweeping Latin America, northern Africa and other countries here and there, is giving us a glimpse of the future, what will Stephen Sackur do for his next job? And what will we do?

2012-04-02 Monday

Rumors have it that some English politicians have shown interest in the Swedish way of financing private schools. Here the schools are entitled to a specific sum of (taxpayers) money for each pupil they succeed in tying up. This principle has stimulated the development of some interesting competitive tools.

First and foremost among these is inflation in grades. It’s become a widespread habit to reward the students with higher grades than they deserve, judged after their results in national tests. Thus headmasters and teachers with the worst ethics in this respect create the most “successful” schools. The students naturally prefer higher grades, and lower strains in the studies themselves. This is a recipe for learning disaster and may have been a factor in the sharply declining performance by Swedish pupils in the PISA-tests.

Other tools for higher competitiveness are: free and personal computers, free training for drivers licenses, fancy study tours and other things not directly related to enhancing acquisition of knowledge. In short we have learned all the shortcomings of market principles applied to the wrong activity. And we were not at all prepared for this.

So, you English politicians, if you want to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s great contribution to the capitalist society it’s OK to copy the Swedish model. But if you want a better school, you should look elsewhere. It so happens that you have to go just one step eastwards, to Finland, which ranks among the very elite in PISA-tests. They keep their schools as far from neoliberalism as possible. Subsequently they stick to public schools, monitored nationally by a centralized authority. Their teacher’s salaries are centrally negotiated and not dependent on performance. And their schools are among the most equal in the world. That's how to create the best schools - and maybe the most unhappy capitalists - in the world.

The radical rethinking is just around the corner…

2012-03-30 Friday
On this page we have reported the scandal revealed by our public radio about Sweden’s cooperation with the notorious dictatorship Saudi Arabia to build a weapons factory in that explosive region. Nothing of the kind has ever happened before, and the question as to who had lost the largest part of his brain capacity arose immediately. The Defense Minister gave his first explanations, which he soon had to revise in consecutive versions. Others tried to cover for the minister, and a number of different “memories” were displayed.

Of course the media didn’t let go, and yesterday came the inevitable resignation by the minister Sten Tolgfors. (He is by the way a spitting image of Julian Assange):


The problem for the Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is that the shield between him and the really embarrassing scandal now has disappeared. There is no way the government can claim they didn’t know. If this really had been the case the matter would be even more outrageous since no inferior officials are supposed to take decisions in such a high profile foreign affair as this one.

Perhaps some kind of hubris has spread in ruling strata as they got away with all kinds of other right-wing excesses without creating uproar among the public. We have assumed earlier that this “system change” became possible because of the “alignment to the center” by the former leadership of the Social Democrats, who therefore didn't oppose the government's actions with sufficient force. (The party has representatives in a parliamentary committee monitoring the arms trade and should have been more active in gaining access to relevant information.) This subservience proved to be a total failure, which resulted in back to back defeats in two elections, making the Social Democrats a second class party for the first time in 70 years.

At that, these fifth columnists in the party called themselves “revivers”. Since their departure two months ago the party has consequently been reborn in opinion polls. The marginalized “revivers” persist in there confusion, but the party experiences a new spring.

(The man to the left is Tolgfors.)

2012-03-23 Friday
Our Foreign Minister Carl Bildt posed as a real dove in an op-ed in New York Times this Tuesday (3/20), which he wrote together with his Finnish colleague Erkki Tuomioja. They there forcefully argued against war with Iran, even against “lose talk” about war, by describing the horrific consequences that such a war would have. Instead they vigorously advocated peaceful and diplomatic measures in dealing with the Iranian leadership.

The interesting thing is that Bildt in his home country usually is considered a hawk in foreign affairs, very rarely opposing steps taken by the leadership in USA, for instance. When his main adversary in the old days, Olof Palme, took a strong stand against immoral wars and other atrocities around the world, Bildt usually opposed him, or at best choose to keep silent. So we do not recognize our Bildt at all. Maybe he is getting old, and is cultivating some kind of conscience, who knows?

2012-03-19 Monday
In just two months the support for the Social Democrats has increased by a record 10 percent (units) in polls. The success is assigned to the new leader, Stefan Löfven, who sounds like a real social democrat, and looks like one. He radiates confidence and safety, and is seemingly incorruptible. It appears that people have been waiting for someone like him to launch some real social democratic politics.

The ordinary Swede is sick and tired of the scandals which naturally followed the privatizations in health care and schools, those we have reported on here. The development since the 2006 elections when a center-right government took over is so extremely un-Swedish. This is a country with some 55 percent social democrats and other leftists and 45 percent bourgeoisie, and has been for at least 80 years now. On rare occasions the parties on the left side have made some mistakes, and thus given the center-right a short period at the government table, usually ending in one or other fiasco.

The current government is the first one that earned a second period on some merits. But now they’ve run short of gas, and a shift in 2014 is in the pipeline. What has been needed for that change is some real social democratic politics and a confident leader that guaranties such a policy, and that is what we have got now. On the other hand a lot can happen in 2.5 years. For one thing our dominantly right-wing media will spare no efforts to whip up any possible fallacy from Löfven’s personal history, operations they are very good at. So nothing can be taken for granted, of course, but there is some basis for hopeful expectations.

2012-03-16 Friday
Financial Times’ most distinguished commentator, Martin Wolf, has been quoted saying:

An out-of-control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid.”

Apart from creating financial catastrophes resulting in devastating, global economic problems, it’s questionable whether the financial sector benefits the real and productive economy in a substantial way at all. Mostly it functions as a great casino giving those who control the bulk of the money large profit opportunities, leaving the losses to be paid by the minor investors and ultimately by the tax payers.

When the chief commentator in the world’s most important financial newspaper speaks out on a subject like this, you would expect the debate to spread to other media in our market economies. Well, here it doesn’t. In the midst of a religious crowd you don’t say that there is no God. And you know what you don’t say among true believers of the market economy religion. That's namely the same pundits who serve as watch dogs for those who run the casino and tamper the roulette.

2012-03-14 Wednesday

Our Social Democrats are making considerable headway. According to the latest poll the support for the party has increased from 26 % to 32,5 % in just the last month. Thus it has regained the position as the country’s largest party, and the left wing parties together now have the edge.

The success is attributed to the new chairman, Stefan Löfven, a traditional and confident Social democrat with his roots in the labor movement. He was head of the Metal Workers Union for many years, a very influential organization in Sweden. Since he’s held his new position for just 45 days, the confidence in him doesn’t come from what he has achieved so far, but probably from the expectations that he will bring back the party to its traditional positions regarding jobs and welfare, away from the neoliberal excesses we have suffered during the present government.

For two days we’ve had sunshine, 10o C and a strong sense of spring. It’s easier to breathe in more than one sense.

2012-03-11 Sunday

This day one year ago Japan suffered a horrible disaster, one of many in this vulnerable land. Almost 20 000 people died from direct effects of the tsunami, more than 300 000 people lost their homes and everything else and the material destruction was almost incalculable.

For media the effects on the nuclear plant in Fukushima were the most interesting, although luckily no person has died from that part of the catastrophe. My newspaper today is obsessed by this one single question, the nuclear accident, as if the thousands really dead human beings meant nothing. (It almost makes you lose your hope in democratic mass media).

A few hundred people are still living in evacuation centers, some 17 thousand with relatives or in hotels, but the large majority has moved to permanent replacement buildings. The enormous restoration efforts needed has thus taken large steps ahead. And nothing of this is reported in our media, of course. You have to search for positive news like these on the Internet, on your own.

Our compassion is with the Japanese a day like this. And at the same time we are pleased with the great progress in the gigantic work they were faced with one year ago, on this very day.

2012-03-09 Friday

The Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and his wife Filippa have decided to separate, as news media announced yesterday. They have three children, age 11, 16 and 18. The Prime Minister has an official residence in the heart of Stockholm at his disposal, but the family residence has been in Täby, north of Stockholm.

Today we just feel personal sympathy for the two parents and the children. For the time being we will postpone political attacks on Fredrik or Filippa on this site. After all, there are human beings with human feeling also behind politics you dislike.

2012-03-08 Thursday
An embarrassing scandal has been revealed by our public radio. It was known earlier that Sweden is exporting military equipment to the Saudi Arabian dictatorship. This was bad enough, but was kept under the rug. Now it turns out that a governmental research body, FOI, has engaged in cooperation with the Saudis to build a weapons factory on Saudi Arabian soil. And by that the limit was reached.

“Peace loving” Sweden, with its rather advanced weapons industry, has had many similar problems earlier. In principle there are rigorous regulations restricting exports of this kind of goods. It’s often said that we may sell weapons only to countries that promise not to use them. In practice though we have sold to India, Pakistan, Libya and other such countries where the weapons certainly have proved their capability in real action.

Apart from that, Swedish guns have popped up at different war scenes all around the world, sold second hand (which we also formally forbid). We live with double standards, and the solution has been to quietly accept that this is the case, and that we don’t talk so much about it.

Would it not be for the Arabian spring, this little affair could very well have been disregarded. But now everyone is focused on (the surprising) fact that there have been a number of dictatorships in the region which we earlier didn’t bother with any inquiries. A naïve person should be puzzled by this negligence since dictatorial governance is the main accusation that we direct at our “enemies” like China, North Korea, Cuba and the rest.

But last year people got to learn that there are good dictatorships and bad ones. The good dictatorships are those who obey orders from western countries, primarily the United States. And the bad ones are the rest. “Good” or “bad” has subsequently nothing to do with how the dictators treat their subjects, or other insignificant things like that.

The Swedish Radio tries hard to keep the scandal alive, but no one will be surprised if the whole thing evaporates in a week or two.

3-06 Tuesday
The Russian presidential election is completed, with the expected result. Our mainstream media has been obsessed with the one single question: fraud. We have been given the impression that the overwhelming majority of votes that Putin gets is a result of this scam, staged by his supporters.

The fact that three or four million people died as a direct result of the capitalist revolution during the 1990s is never mentioned here, and the detail that Putin put an end to the worst atrocities are seldom touched upon. Thus the obvious reason for Russians to vote for Putin is completely neglected, namely that people simply don’t want to live through the same disaster again.

Candidates representing the middle class opposition got 13 percent of the votes. (It’s even less than the 17 percent of the population that want to return to the oppressive communist Russia.) But in our media this small fraction is presented as a kind of majority, or at least as the moral majority. It’s wishful thinking, as long as the ordinary Russians remember the horrifying 1990s. And as long as Putin’s administration is the only force that can remedy the still harmful effects of that period the elections will end the same way, fraud or not fraud.

The middle class opposition today represents the fraction of the people that ended up on the golden side of the capitalist revolution, the brats in Moscow and Petersburg.  It should take some time before Russia has recovered to the degree that a real and substantial middle class will evolve organically and become a political force. First the widespread poverty has to be overcome.

This is the real effect of a lively democracy, which we in the more wealthy western countries sometimes don’t seem to fully understand: if a majority of the people suffers from a catastrophic economic experiment, they will vote for a candidate that has demonstrated that he will look to their interests. Yes, that's what's called democracy!

2012-02-29 Wednesday

Rich people are more dishonest, says my paper today in a short paragraph. A study made at the Berkeley and Toronto Universities concludes that well off, upper class people are more inclined to break traffic rules, steal candy from children and lie to gain financial advantages, than people from lower social classes. The conclusions are drawn from experimental studies of individual’s behavior. (Source AFP.)

There should be nothing surprising about such findings. The sharp and conflicting divide between right and left in politics indicates that the difference is based on more fundamental factors than just education, upbringing and similar soft aspects.

Let this be a forecast: one day a gene, or more likely a combination of genes, determining left or right inclination on political issues will be identified.

Already a single gene for social susceptibility is identified. This gene makes its bearer more vulnerable for social pressure. And we are just in the very beginning of genetic research which promises amazing results, for some people frightening results.

2012-02-11 Saturday

Life for the homeless in Moscow is hard when the temperature falls below minus 20 °C, which is has done lately, my daily paper reports. There are 30 000 of them in the city. “If they fall asleep they’re finished within an hour”, one social worker says.

The journalist follows a charity bus on a nightly tour between railway stations, where the homeless usually are found. A man from Turkmenistan, sick from AIDS and with his leg in plaster is waiting for the bus. “I broke my leg the day before yesterday” he said, “but when they had fixed the plaster at the hospital, they threw me out again”. He is given a painkiller and a cup of tea.

In the whole of Russia there are between 1.5 and 4.2 million homeless. As far as one knows homelessness was not a problem in the Soviet Union. With the capitalist revolution half the industrial capacity simply disappeared, depriving masses of people the elementary means of subsistence. On top of that a deep economic crisis occurred in 2008. The result was premature deaths on a scale not seen since Stalin’s “agricultural policy” in the 1930s. Hence millions of people died and the life expectancy dropped shockingly fast.

Media here are discretely surprised that many people in Russia embraces Stalin and vote for a communist party. This attitude goes hand in hand with the suppression of any information about the social catastrophe in the country after the democratic and capitalist revolution. This is a subject never touched upon. Our beloved freedom of expression doesn’t allow information on such unwanted facts.

But is it really a necessary price for the transition to democracy and capitalism that human beings freeze to death in the streets? Or for that matter starve to death in a number of countries, or die in a scale of 20 thousand a day (that is: children alone)? If not, why don’t we do more to solve problems like these? It would cost us close to nothing compared with our total economies. After all, we do hail our way of life with its freedom, democracy and "free markets", and obviously want to protect it. Wouldn't it then be of highest priority to discharge the system of properties that seem to show that it really doesn’t work very well?

8 Wednesday
Another IAEA activity barely mentioned in our media are the meetings on January 29-31 with authorities in Iran about nuclear issues.
IAEA’s concerns and priorities “focus on the clarification of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program”. Given that the threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons is of the highest priority to our mass media, with almost daily reminders, the silence about these talks is astonishing. That is, astonishing if one didn’t suspect that the media frenzy in fact is intended to raise fear and hostility towards Iran, not to really solve the question of proliferation.

What we see is almost a blueprint of the build-up of the war against Iraq, with the same alarm about weapons of mass destruction. In those days IAEA was in the center of attention and Hans Blix constantly ridiculed in USA for claiming that inspectors hadn’t found any WMD:s. This time the grounds for suspicion against Iran are certainly more firm.

On the other hand Iran has relatively weak armed forces, with military spending just a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s and, according to General Petraeus, an air force not stronger that Qatar’s. If Iran had nuclear weapons it couldn’t use them without itself being pulverized, thus just restricted to keep them as a deterrent.

Of the Arab population in the region, according to polling agents such as Brookings institution, only about 10 percent consider Iran a threat, while 90 percent give that role to USA. In Egypt (during Mubarak rule) as many as 80 percent thought the security in the region would be better off if Iran had nuclear weapons!

From the meetings January 29-31 IAEA has just a short press release without any concrete statements. They announce though that a second meeting will take place already on February 20-21 in Teheran. This may very well be an attempt by the Iranian leaders to gain some time, but on the other hand talking to each other is better than not doing so.

If our media had shown some interest in the meetings, it possibly had put some pressure on the Iranians to produce something. The purity of the motives for media to neglect the event must reasonably be questioned.

2012-02-06 Monday
There are no reports on the situation in Fukushima in our newspapers nowadays. And there were certainly none the days after December 16 last year when IAEA made the following statement:

“The IAEA welcomes the announcement by the Government of Japan that the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have achieved a "cold shutdown condition" and are in a stable state, and that the release of radioactive materials is under control.

Overall TEPCO and the Japanese government have made significant progress and have completed the second step of the TEPCO's roadmap by the end of the year as they had planned.”

It should be noticed that IAEA by no means belongs to any “nuclear mafia” (if there is one), rather the contrary. It’s a prerequisite for the very existence of IAEA that radioactive radiation bears a potential risk for human beings. Accordingly it’s not a threat to IAEA’s authority and prestige that the risks with such radiation are grossly exaggerated by media, politicians and subsequently among the public.

In fact IAEA contributes to the overestimation of risks by applying the so called LNT principle, which is controversial, unrealistic and not applicable to risk evaluations in any other field. This principle leads IAEA to enforce harsh limits for radiation in habitable land, which in turn has led to the evacuation of towns and villages in Japan where the radiation dose exceeds 20 mSv/y.

The fact that people have lived, for instance, in Ramsar in Iran for centuries, where natural radiation has given inhabitants up to 260 mSv/y without any specific injuries, has not convinced IAEA to reconsider its position. High doses are to be found in many other places around the world. In the county where I live, called Bohuslan, there are large areas where the dose highly exceeds 20 mSv/y and single spots giving more than 900 mSv/y.

If the IAEA radiation limits were to take seriously the authorities in Sweden obviously should have considered to fence off the areas in question and to evacuate many places permanently. The radiation here derives from Uranium-238, which produces Radon, a radioactive gas penetrating homes and in turn creating alpha-emitting daughters ending up in peoples lungs. This is after all a risk worth mentioning, compared to the solid Cesium-137 in Japan, easily brushed or washed away.

We can thus conclude that last year’s most horrible catastrophe (not the 30 thousand dead from the tsunami, but) in the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima, has the remarkable result that not a single person was injured from radiation, let alone dead. And now the plant is in cold shutdown and the danger for future damages eliminated. One would have expected this to give rise to happy and relieving news all around the world, not least considering the hysteria in reporting earlier. Instead there is no news at all! Sad to say: very predictable!

2012-02-01 Wednesday
Our Foreign minister, Carl Bildt - built from Teflon that is - has made a fool of himself again, this time on Twitter. On January 26 he delivered the following amazing tweet:

“Leaving Stockholm and heading for Davos. Looking forward to World Food Program dinner tonight. Global hunger is an urgent issue!”

According to Dagens Nyheter this remarkable insensitivity has elicited a “Twitter storm” also abroad, with good reason one should add. But there will certainly not be any further media reactions here; such things just don’t happen when Bildt is involved.

In contrast the former leader of the Social Democrats, Håkan Juholt, couldn’t put a single punctuation mark on the wrong place without journalists losing their minds in wild tantrums. Accordingly he finally had to resign. And we were thoroughly persuaded that there was nothing political about the media attacks on Juholt, whatsoever!

It’s a wonderful world! And yet it has really progressed for a couple of centuries. Which just shows how much there is left to do!

2012-01-24 Tuesday
We have an overwhelming dominance of bourgeoisie newspapers in this country, in addition to the right-wing government. But neither can get enough power, so they have to control also the meager political opposition by chasing every opportunity to attack the Social democrats and try to interfere with its internal affairs. This time they succeeded to force the chairman of the party, Håkan Juholt, to resign (it should be mentioned that he belongs to the left wing of his party).

It started by an economic matter, of a kind that would give Americans stomach ache from laughter. Parliamentarians here are entitled to allowances for keeping an extra apartment in Stockholm (they are supposed to maintain their residents in their home districts). It turned out that Juholt had his fiancée living in the same apartment, and that he thus should apply for only half the ordinary allowance. This caused furor in the media and the hunt was started.

As a prosecutor investigated the case it turned out that there were no provisions at all regulating the specific case and thus no ground for prosecution. This didn’t satisfy populist journalists who claimed that Juholt should have recognized that there should have been regulations…

After this starter every sentence Juholt uttered where scrutinized to the smallest letter, and there was a lot to find, since the man is of a talkative and impulsive nature. With each blunder the outrage from the press become exponentially more insane, and finally there was no way out, except Juholt's resignation.

Somehow I believe that this was a Pyrrhic victory. The common sentiments in large parts of Sweden, away from Stockholm, have very little in common with the thoughts that our government proclaims. And the supremacy of bourgeoisie papers doesn’t reflect the readers’ preferences, but only the economic strength of owners and advertisers.

As Noam Chomsky wrote me some time ago in response to a mail I sent him: “…the game is never over. Have to just keep trying. Things can change. It’s happened before.” With such inspiring words on the wall one tends to see only possibilities in every small setback.

2012-01-22 Sunday
Today 163 years has passed since the birth of the greatest Swedish writer through all times. His name was August Strindberg, and this year 2012, on May 14th, we will commemorate the 100 years since he died. That he was the greatest is of course a value judgment, not shared by everyone. It’s mostly not shared by the wealthy, the conservatives, the neo-Nazis and some others. A number of our liberals (European definition) will probably put any of the other big names ahead of Strindberg, such as Selma Lagerlöf, Hjalmar Söderberg or even Astrid Lindgren. It’s all a matter of taste; not seldom political taste.

That’s why our right-wing politicians in the government and in the municipality of Stockholm, Strindberg's home town, have allocated such miniscule amounts to the celebration of his memory. It amounts to some percent of what the Norwegian government spent on the commemoration of their greatest author, Henrik Ibsen, famous for his dramas, like Strindberg’s still played all over the world.

I’ve written about this earlier, and I will certainly be back on May 14th. My intention is to focus on the politically motivated devaluation of the memory of a man that still, a hundred years after his death, is spreading our country’s best dramas to stages all over the world. It’s so damn petty! If there was no other reason to despise right-wing politicians, this would suffice (but there are many other reasons as well, which readers of these pages easily will recognize).

2012-01-17 Tuesday

No comments!

2012-01-15 Sunday
In 1996 US voters could see bumper stickers reading: “If God had intended us to vote, he would have given us candidates”.

There seems to be an upcoming market for that kind of slogans yet again. The already dominating prospect that Mitt Romney will become the GOP’s candidate has taken the wind out of the campaign’s sails even in Swedish mass media. On the other hand a less intense coverage will probably correspond closer to the real importance of the presidential election, with regard to the factual differences between Romney and Obama.

Barack Obama certainly created a great hope, not least in Europe, before he was elected. Enough so that the somewhat naïve Norwegians handed him the Nobel Peace Prize in blank. Then Obama has left many hearts bleeding as he quite ruthlessly has abandoned his grand promises of peace. As Noam Chomsky has said: where Bush number two just tortured his victims, Obama kills them right off (referring to the targeted killings with drones).

We weep in silence.

2012-01-09 Monday
It has been known for ages that a country like Afghanistan, consisting of mountains, war lords and armed peasants, cannot be defeated militarily. All who tried have failed. With death-wishing Taliban added to the picture the military task has become even more ludicrous.

One can take for granted that US Intelligence experts had the full view of the lean prospects for an invasion of Afghanistan, but there was an important aspect that decided the war: retaliation.

Sweden, formerly a violent plague on Europe, had kept peace for 200 years (cowardly so during WW2, according to many Europeans). Then, some years ago, we suddenly found ourselves at war in Afghanistan, and no one seemed to know how it happened. We had no retaliation to think of, just a wish to please Big Brother who pinpointed peaceful Sweden as a particularly valuable ally.

One can be quite certain that Swedes in general doesn’t know the main difference between this war and peace-keeping operations under UN flag, in which we have been engaged many times around the world. But this is a real war, and we haven’t the slightest idea of what it means. If, for instance, a unit of Taliban is airdropped on a military installation in Sweden, killing hundreds of uniformed persons, they cannot be treated as murderers. If captured, they should enjoy the rights of prisoners of war, according to International Law (what actually would happen is another question, since International Law is optional for certain powers). An event like this is certainly incomprehensible for the common Swede, but it's one of possible consequences of being at war.

Now our government has declared withdrawal from Afghanistan, beginning this year and finishing in 2014 (exactly 200 years after our last actions in a war). The withdrawal is unconditional, which is the same as to acknowledge military defeat. That’s it. We are accomplices in the destruction of a poor country, who’s only “crime” was that a foreign terrorist had chosen its territory to reside on. To top it all, the hated and anachronistic Taliban will obviously be back as a political force. The same Taliban that came into being under the auspices of western powers, and for a period was implicitly supported by USA during the Soviet war of aggression.

How brain-dead isn’t all this?

2012-01-04 Wednesday
On page 20 in my paper last Thursday there was a quite insignificant article about the growing economic divide in Sweden, things we mostly read about when it regards other countries, preferably USA. In the “perfect” Sweden (according to some), or “socialist” Sweden (according to others), such things are not expected to happen. But it turns out that it has done so.

Like in all other countries affected by neoliberal policies, inequality has increased during the last 30 years, albeit less serious than in the US, for instance. Return on capital is the main explanation for the growing divide, as expected since neoliberalism is more or less defined by the transfer of production outcome from labor to capital.

Ever since we got our right-wing government with its neoliberal finance minister in 2006, this deplorable development has accelerated. Total wealth has naturally increased (due mainly to technological progress), but the poorest 10 percent of households lost none the less 5,5 percent of their income, while the richest 10 percent could enjoy a 23 percent increase of their earnings.

The finance minister, Anders Borg, was interviewed by the reporter and shed crocodile tears over the growing divide. Its “troublesome” he says, “we shall have a country that holds together”. His pretended amazement is ludicrous after his five years of deliberate attacks on the unemployed, the sick, the retired and other vulnerable groups.

In opinion polls a majority of Swedes rejects this policy, but at the same time Anders Borg has high ratings when it comes to personal confidence. It looks like a paradox, but may perhaps be explained by the fact that he is well protected by the media. On the whole we’ve had an un-Swedish government the last five years, but if that instead means that Sweden has transformed is something we will find out eventually.

2012-01-03 Tuesday
Time to remember to write "2012". This promises to be a “great” year for media, with presidential elections in USA, China and Russia, and the Olympic Games in London to top it all.

China and Russia can be put aside; those are not real elections, but the US campaign is already intensely covered by our media. And in many ways our journalists seem to copy their colleagues in the US. Just to pick one tiny peculiarity, the handling of Ron Paul's case. In his home country some prominent media mostly pretend he doesn’t run at all. Likewise he is rarely mentioned in our media.

This must be explained shortly to Swedish readers, since they hardly see the name Ron Paul in their papers. The man is a consistent Tea Partyist in that he doesn’t want heavy government spending even in military adventures. He goes so far as to say the obvious but forbidden, namely that the US wars only create hostility and more terrorists around the world. For this he is condemned by the “true” Republicans who reflexively are ignorant patriots at any cost, and consequently the “true” media tries to neglect him.

The legitimacy of elections is a current topic since the last Russian election with its alleged rigging. Today we can read here that some republican states in the US are rewriting the electoral rules, obviously in order to make it more difficult for non-whites, students and poor people to vote. Fraud or not, in a country where voters participation in elections already is critically low, the prank is embarrassing. The low participation of just above half the total number of voters, means that no president has more than roughly one third of the voters behind him. Is that really a functioning democracy even in just the formal sense?

Well, this election is like an interesting sports event, reminding of the Olympics. Before and during the competition it may be exciting, but afterwards it makes no real difference who won.

2011-12-29 Thursday
The traditional Swedish Christmas ham is eaten and done with, so now we are looking towards the coming New Year 2012. Two of the most notable and at the same time least important events will be the presidential elections in Russia and USA. In Russia the lack of importance is due to the lack of alternatives. In USA it’s in a way the same thing.

The alternative to Putin in Russia is chaos, obviously; the same chaos that followed from the capitalist and democratic revolution, when half the industry was destroyed and millions of people died from pure misery. While this happened a few energetic apparatchiks stole the country’s most valuable assets, many of them bringing the fortunes abroad. Putin’s KGB-toughness put an end to the most outlandish excesses and brought at least some consistency to the poor country. For this he achieved a considerable popularity, which now is eroding. But the alternatives to Putin are zero, for the time being.

In the United States of America there will nominally be two alternatives in the end. But in real terms the alternatives are practically identical. Neither candidate will even try to fulfill the will of the American people, as expressed in carefully performed opinion polls. Policy is determined by the business community, which is paying the two parties and candidates to execute it. The best marketing campaign will determine who's to be given the determined task, and there
by be awarded the president's title.

Three years ago Barack Obama held the winners speech on the night of the presidential election. It was a rhetorical masterpiece. What he promised was a formidable reformation of the society, for the benefit of ordinary people and for those in need. It was a touching and an uplifting speech, intellectually miles above what his immediate predecessor could dream of performing. Then came the ordinary workday…

We should not torment ourselves with details from the catalogue of disappointments; just conclude that the government’s measures kept on complying with the same business policy as always. A new president from the competing party may promise a lot of things, in some ways even deviating from Obama’s pledges, but the really existing policy will most probably be fundamentally unaltered.

During 2012 the US election campaign will evoke enormous mass media attention in most of the world, coverage out of every sane proportion, leading to a result of minimal importance in real terms. It’s not much more than a sports event, which should have been the most important political election in the world.

2011-12-24 Saturday
Christmas Eve is the top ranked holiday in Sweden (together with Midsummer's Eve). We don't hesitate to talk about Christmas, although some 85 percent of Swedes see no religious connotation in the day's name. It's just an old traditional term which doesn't bother anybody, regardless of faith (we also hope). It's a day for uninhibited eating, some drinking, and for the children the great day of Christmas presents. And when we are heading home late at night we can thank our Muslim taxi drivers who eagerly work this day. (In my childhood, before there was any immigration, it was almost impossible to get a cab on Christmas Eve.)

After this day of stuffing (food) we just digest and refill for a couple of days, like the old Vikings. At best we also contemplate the situation for starving and suffering people around the world and give some money for charity.

Now this computer will by shut off for a couple of days, and the author will be contemplating without writing for a while. He will return when the challenges are too tempting not to pick up.

I wish regular and occasional readers a nice and peaceful holiday, regardless of faith or non-faith.

2011-12-21 Wednesday
SAAB has finally filed bankruptcy, which immediately was granted by the court. An era in Swedish car manufacturing seems definitely to be put to an end. Now Chinese companies and others probably can pick up the valuable pieces for a cheap prize.

At the same time editors in numerous newspapers around the country can uncork the champagne, aged and cooled during their tree years of brave struggle to defeat and exterminate SAAB, an effort which has been as surrealistic and sickening as anything possibly can be. They may invite the government to the party, as accomplice to the murder by refusing to give SAAB any substantial help (unlike their colleagues in USA and Germany who wisely supported their car industries in hard times).

Neoliberalism and ignorance has celebrated triumph: a so called non-profitable company has been crushed by a journalist lynch mob and a right-wing government, neither with the slightest knowledge about advanced car technology or (as it sadly seems) of the important role this kind of industry plays for Swedish economy.

In the final phase of the struggle against SAAB one crucial contribution was provided by General Motors, who denied the selling of SAAB to Chinese companies on the grounds of license rights. According to my morning paper someone has written on GM’s Facebook page the following:

You have killed the most amazing car manufactor in the world. SHAME ON YOU! I will never buy one of your cars, NEVER!

2011-12-15 Thursday
We’ve have witnessed some very peculiar political scandals since we got the present government with its ideologically motivated privatization, very poorly prepared. I’ve touched upon the new private nursing homes that severely mistreated their old patients, in at least one case leading to death. In their effort to maximize profits, and in cold blood, they cut both personnel and quality with disastrous consequences. On top of that they tampered with their internal financial transactions so that their large profits landed in tax havens, thus avoiding any tax payments in Sweden whatsoever.

Carema is the company responsible for the most blatant misdeeds, and they obviously ended up with huge PR problems. What happens then is most incredible for people in this country. It turns out that politicians have used tax payer’s money to cover cost for a PR firm helping Carema with its problems. On top of that the PR firm which they engaged is Kreab, a company closely intertwined with the Moderates, the leading party in the government.

Well, this may be violating some laws, and is certainly challenging elementary moral. But the media reaction is still fairly modest, and it all seemed to die out after just one day. It’s almost as if people think that right-wing politicians after all have quite low moral standards and that we cannot demand something from them that they are not capable of.

If on the other hand the Social Democrats had been responsible for a complex of outrageous scandals of this magnitude, the indignation in our bourgeoisie newspapers had shown no limitations. So today they have their hands full with important work, such as controlling Håkan Juholts taxi receipts and other major possibilities of Social Democrat’s fallacies. Never have the ground been better prepared for a new Jonathan Swift ransacking Sweden, but such a person is nowhere in sight.

2011-12-12 Monday
A Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer, is this year’s Nobel laureate in literature. According to experts in poetry worldwide he has enough merits for the Prize. In other cases the Swedish Academy obviously has awarded some countrymen and –women somewhat too easily through the years. But the greatest Swedish author in all times never got the Prize, never even came close.

I’m referring to August Strindberg, who’s dramas (such as “Miss Julie”, “A Dream Play” and many others) are still played on stages all over the world. His novels never reached international readers, but are very important nationally. Strindberg single-handedly created the modern Swedish written language. There is a sharp divide between the heavy-footed, long and formalistic sentences (with some German influences) before Strindberg, and the ones we can read with more easiness today.

Strindberg lived from 1849 till 1912, a lively period with some democratic break-throws. He fought on the barricades alongside other revolutionary youngsters to overthrow the old and depleted in politics as well as in art and literature. Our hero was consequently a rabid radical and anarchist, who’s first great novel (“The Red Room”) was a scandalous success.

As a master of satire he then wrote a collection of short stories (“The New Country”) where he portrayed some contemporary celebrities under thin disguise and with acid ink. The book aroused as much applause and laughs on the one side, as it created extreme rage and hostility on the other, and in the end it forced Strindberg to emigrate with his family. (Today The New Country is considered a masterpiece in the satiric genre.)

Strindberg not just repeatedly moved his residence (from France to Switzerland, Denmark, Germany and Austria), he also changed his philosophical and political positions, trying the most diverse world views. On returning to Sweden after roughly 15 years abroad he was a full-fledged Swedenborgian religious mystic, with inclination for alchemy and occultism. In that shape he was denounced by most of his friends from the Sturm und Drang-period in earlier years.

But with a few years left to live he returned to his radical base and wrote almost daily articles in a Workers' newspaper, arguing against warmongers, false patriotism, and other misdeeds by the upper-class. He also took the opportunity to slap his literary enemies in the face with some unforgettable formulations. By that he started a debate which soon spread through newspapers all over the country and engaged all kinds of people writing articles (most of the texts were later reprinted in two volumes embracing 1 000 pages).

Thus Strindberg ultimately defined himself as a leftist, anti-authoritarian writer, which in a way had been his real sentiment deep down all his life. This explains why he never even had been considered as a candidate for the Nobel Prize. He was also denounced forever as an enemy by establishment in general and by right-wing people in particular. This still determines the actions of reactionary politicians.

The literary work of Strindberg is by scope, importance and excellence without comparison in Sweden. His letters alone, in a 22 volume edition, is a literary gold mine in itself. In passing: Strindberg also was a forerunner in expressionist painting; his works now being sold for millions of dollars at international auctions.

Next year we will commemorate the 100 years since this grandmaster died. But the class-conscious, insensitive and ignorant right-wing politicians now ruling in Stockholm has allotted only an embarrassingly small amount of money for the commemoration, so small that it must be construed as a political demonstration. It’s an infamy towards Sweden’s greatest writer and likewise towards those who admires him in that capacity, regardless of political prejudices.

2011-12-07 Wednesday
Today is Noam Chomsky's 83rd birthday. He represents the utmost excellence in different intellectual fields, practical moral philosophy not the least of them. But he has also drawn conclusions from his philosophy and acted courageously to influence the development of the world and to improve conditions for the victims of not so moral power centers. Like many great men and women who have chosen that hard task he has been neglected by the carefully combed "intellectuals", the flatterers of the court. Consequently he his nullified by the mainstream society, while at the same time he is the most cited living author in the world, and immensely appreciated among large groups of the most conscious academics and among political activists.

Noam Chomsky, like many of the very eminent persons in world history who were treated likewise in their lifetime, will some day be recognized as the important character he actually is. Until then the world will have to endure the demagogic stupidities delivered by the intellectual spear carriers to those who have the real power and are challenged by Chomsky. I've spend some time undressing one of these so called intellectuals and the result will probably appear in my Swedish section. But I can imagine what Noam's reaction would have been, had I asked him: "Don't waste your energy on such nonsensical tasks".

Happy birthday Noam, and may you live till at least a hundred.

2011-12-05 Monday
Let’s today cite a few sentences from a speech held by a prominent member of a party represented in the United States’ Congress:

     “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street… Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags…
      … We want the abolition of the National Banks, and we want the power to make loans direct from the government. We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out…. We will stand by our homes and stay by our firesides by force if necessary, and we will not pay our debts to the loan-shark companies until the Government pays its debt to us.

     The people are at bay, let the bloodhounds of money who have dogged us so far beware.”

But is there today a party in the Congress with such a straightforward view on central issues? No, the speaker was Mary Ellen Lease from the People’s party. And the year was 1890.

Although a lot have changed for the better since 1890, it’s remarkable how identical some key problems of capitalism are, and how much more optimism and militancy there could be in the popular movements 120 years ago. “You can learn from history” is something you often learn in school, it just remains to be learned in life too.

A way to start is to read A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. That’s where I found the citations above (p. 288 in the 2003 HarperCollins’ hardcover edition).

2011-11-22 Tuesday
In the last notation Sunday I left out the most prominent of our previous affaires, the scandalous treatment of elderly in privately managed care centers. More horror stories are popping up daily when people report to media about their personal experiences as to their own relatives. This is accompanied by a compact critique from experts in different fields about almost every phase of the processes when these companies were engaged by the official bodies, from amateurish procurement via inadequate contracts to non-existent follow-ups.

What should puzzle us is the lack of popular uproars against the utterances of brain-dead neoliberalism, of which the privatizations are only one aspect. One can’t recognize the good old Swede with his social democratic mind. Our Occupy-movements tries to engage the young, but with only moderate success. Groups of conscious and progressive leftists have been active and appear to have grown in number, but they constitute a small minority, and the media isn’t too keen to engage in their case.

Our media is busy with the definitive killing of the Social democrats, by first beheading Hakan Juholt, the chairman. And they are indeed successful. Juholt has made some not so good performances, but the main battle that underlies the visible fight is between left and right, also within Juholts own party. The defeated fraction leaning to the right has started to attack Juholt quite openly, thus speeding up the breakdown.

It’s a depressing situation, but that’s when it can’t be worse that possibilities usually turn up. In the meantime we just have to strive on.

2011-11-20 Sunday
I’ll just drop by on this page to note that not much has changed here lately. Julian Assange has appealed to an even higher court, probably the last one, to avoid extradition to Sweden. Op-eds in the mainstream press usually deride him for not coming here, and nobody seems the least concerned about the risk for an extradition claim from the United States.

The SAAB-affaire is still in a never ending negotiation process, now some years long. The debacle with GM blocking the two Chinese companies from buying SAAB hasn’t stopped the discussions about the deal. In the meantime SAAB is under bankruptcy protection and salaries are paid, but no cars are produced.

Our Social democrat leader, Hakan Juholt, has become completely free game for our mass media. Since all our large papers are supporting the bourgeoisie side in politics and our public service TV and of course our commercial channels just follow along, there is a unanimous attack on Juholt for all his errors and flip-flaps. When the melt-down has begun there is nothing that can stop journalists and reporters, other than the final crushing of the victim. It’s a sickening performance to watch.

Our center-right parties in the government are now pleased with the fact that they lost the referendum some years ago whether Sweden should enter the euro-zone. They can also rely on our manufacturing industry and raw materials making up the core of our economy and the vital basis for successful export, although the Stockholm-centered punditry a long time ago declared the end of the industrial economy and the beginning of the service and informational society.

Lacking elementary science education the pundits of course haven’t the slightest idea of what an advanced industrial society is about (it is certainly shown in the SAAB-debacle). An interesting lesson is that they obviously have no influence on the development of the economy, thank God. The men and women in the material reality in the outskirts of Sweden are forming the future with skills and knowledge, while the high-brow intelligentsia, the finance manipulators and the rest, in their Armani suits enjoy the Stockholm night-life. As long as they remain there they are the least harmful for the development of the country and it may be worth their high salaries to keep them from interfering in the reality.

2011-11-09 Wednesday
The SAAB affaire now more and more takes the shape of an ordinarily formatted American thriller movie. When the first problems are solved and everybody relaxes, it’s still some time left. That’s when the real disaster emerges, and nothing is settled until the last minute of the film.

When the two Chinese companies finally had decided to buy SAAB, and many of us relaxed, it turned out that General Motors had the power to obstruct the affair, and so they did. In the deal with Muller’s company, GM claimed, and obtained, right of veto concerning three of SAAB’s car models, which had some critical GM content.

I’m a little vague here from lack of knowledge since our media obviously have missed this clause completely, in spite of their enormous coverage of the story. They have been too busy trying to kill the poor car manufacturer. So when the Chinese appeared on the stage, and apparently solved the problem, journalists quailed for a while. With the new joyful news from GM they subsequently regained their spirit.

This is for sure a bizarre story where everything is upside down. Now the Chinese companies are expected to withdraw their bids, and the evil media working for the Destroyer has the upper hand. Will some miracle in the last minute save SAAB, the hero? Well, this is unfortunately not a movie, and the real world doesn’t always provide happy endings. But the hope will not evade us until the curtain has reached the floor!

2011-11-07 Monday

Any possible US reader to this page can comfort him- or herself with the news that there now is another country trying to reach the same merits when it comes to dysfunctional health care systems. And the reason is the same: privatization.

We have gone through a number of scandals in private nursing homes here the last few weeks. One old man maltreated till he died, patients sleeping on the floor, the facilities short-staffed and nurses desperately overworked; no diapers for the elderly, not even toilet paper. All for the sacred purpose of maximizing profits for private companies, which usually have their head-quarters in tax havens at that.

Complaint are also piling up regarding private preschools with ever growing groups of children taken care of by the same or declining number of personnel. Private schools are reported having too few qualified teachers, also lacking proper equipment and school books. All these cases have one thing in common: they produce record profits for the companies and their owners each year.

There is one basis for the scandals, which anyone should have realized from the beginning, namely that these businesses are fully financed by tax payers’ money. Such a model opens a high-way to windfall profits for more or less unscrupulous entrepreneurs. On this we share another property with the US political system: to criticize privatizations as the main cause of the problem is completely unthinkable. For the moment, that is. But there will come other moments in the future!

2011-11-04 Friday
A High Court in England has finally ruled that Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, shall be extradited to Sweden to be interrogated about possible sex-crimes, a charade you probably remember. No one here expects the prosecutor to find enough substantial facts to even bring Assange to a court, but a game once started must go on till it’s finished.

After the legal procedure is put aside, the question of extradition to the US can be expected. Journalists here usually pretend that there will be no demands from the US of that kind, naively presuming that he, in such a case, would have been sent over the Atlantic Ocean by England already.

Considering the grave effects, would he be tried in a US court, with a long prison sentence to be expected, the attitude among media people here is shockingly easygoing. After all, they share with Assange the dependence of that sacred part of human rights that we call freedom of expression.

Swedes are indeed known to be naïve and unsuspecting, but in this case one is tempted to believe a more cold-hearted intent. It seems that solidarity with the United States is of higher priority than considerations for Julian Assange. There is no normal scenario in which the Swedish government can deny an extradition. That would imply that Sweden classifies Assange as a political offender or something like that, which the US government would regard as humiliating. So that alternative is ruled out. What, then??

The whole affair is a disgrace for Sweden from the very start, and the end can be even worse.

2011-11-02 Wednesday
For years now our neoliberal editors, journalists and blogs have done their utmost to promote the crushing of the respected car manufacturer SAAB. They have shown an almost morbid satisfaction in explaining that the company is completely beyond rescue. My paper (Dagens Nyheter) has intensified the campaign the last year with just about daily demands for the liquidation of SAAB. In this effort the whole editorial staff has been engaged (including the entertainment section) in a giant mission which simply has been incomprehensible for a normal brain.

I emailed a couple of questions to the editors with roughly the following meaning: “Why do you engage in such an extreme campaign if the company will crash anyhow? What’s the problem if SAAB against any odds will survive?” The answer was a rhetorical “masterpiece” maintaining that the paper cared for the employees, trying to save them from being deceived by Muller, the previous owner. (For Dagens Nyheter it was obviously a better and more humane solution for the employees that they were kicked out in unemployment immediately.)

Now it is almost determined that SAAB will be bought by two Chinese companies, Youngman and Pang Da. What remains is a formal sanction by the Chinese government, which is expected to be granted. SAAB will obviously be saved; the new owners declare that production in Trollhattan will continue, and new factories will be built in China. Our neoliberal media have spent enormous recourses in an insane campaign which anyhow ended in fiasco.

Apart from the impenetrable motives behind the media campaign it was obvious that those who performed it, with their presumptuous and cocksure attitudes, had no clue as to the innovative and technological value SAAB represented. At best they had their educated incapacity acquired in neoliberal economic courses. It’s a blessing that newly industrialized but still developing countries, like China, can provide the technological knowledge necessary to understand modern, productive societies.

2011-10-17 Monday
Since journalists are addicted to scandals - and now after the cease fire in the Juholt affair - they have to turn to our Foreign minister Carl Bildt, who is famous for getting away with all kinds of oddities. His weapon is blunt arrogance with which he normally silences reporters who confront him with impertinent questions. It has obviously also helped that he belongs to the right-wing party, in a country where media is dominantly bourgeoisie. But unlike Juholt, the Foreign minister probably has real misdeeds on his list of merits.

This time he is targeted for a tricky situation in Ethiopia. Two Swedish journalists, who had gone there to report on the situation in the Ogaden province, have been jailed for alleged cooperation with the guerilla. Bildt’s first rather sour reaction was that they shouldn’t have travelled there in the first place, while others instead expected him to engage fully in their release. A reporter then revealed that a Swedish oil Company, Lundin Oil, had been active with oil exploration in the same area.

Before Bildt became Foreign minister he had been a member of the board of Lundin Oil, and there were insinuations made that old interests played a role for his attitude. His integrity was put in question. The heat went up when Bildt excelled in his usual arrogance in the country’s most popular talk show, and many came to think that he this time had gone too far. And one can really say that he has worked hard through many years to prepare for a drive in media. We’ll see what happens.

2011-10-15 Saturday
Today the Juholt affaire to everybody's surprise took a dramatically different path. Yesterday night the executive inner circle of the Social Democratic Party had a meeting, in which they decided to back their chairman, who since day one had maintained his innocence, and all through the process had refused to resign. Also yesterday a prosecutor made a statement that must have slapped the witch-hunting journalists right in their faces.

A legal investigation concerning the apartment situation had started, and was finished yesterday after a simple and rapid procedure. It obviously turned out that there were no regulations about the apartments whatsoever! Parliamentarians could live there with anyone they wanted, as is the normal condition for anyone that rents an apartment. Everything else that had been claimed by journalists was plainly pure fabrications, or lies, if you prefer a more exact word.

So what I reported Thursday was mostly journalistic fantasies based on rumors, which had been presented by the most prestigious papers and TV-channels as pure truths. This is a monumental blowback for the news media, and well deserved at that. So today’s paper looked completely different compared with the last few days. Juholt is almost revered for his strong attitude, even if no guilt is admitted by the editors. But that’s just so boringly normal. Has anyone ever heard a journalist say the dangerous words: “I was wrong”? Not to speak of the even worse: “I lied!”

2011-10-13 Thursday
Our media have been rewarded an enormous scoop, filling every paper and news show to the brim the past week. The background is this: parliamentarians who come from other regions than Stockholm are allowed compensation for an apartment in the capital. The state simply pays the rent. But if you have a partner who also lives in the apartment, only half the rent should be paid for by the state.

It turned out that the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Håkan Juholt, has applied for full compensation, although his female partner also has lived in the apartment. Thus he has through the years received in total some 23.000 $ more than he was entitled to. “He has broken the unambiguous rules!” media shouts. Now, Juholts lawyer claims that the specific terms are not at all clear and not even explicit in the instructions. But since media have created such an incredible storm Juholt is considered to be finished anyway, by media at least. The "defendant" himself says he will take the fight and not resign voluntarily.

It is said here that in the US it is detrimental for a politician to have sex in a wrong circumstance, and to be caught, but that infidelity with money isn’t a big deal. In Sweden it’s the other way around. If someone here saw a politician humping a cow it’s some chance that a newspaper wouldn’t even bother to make it a story. Sex is private, and that is usually respected. But if a parliamentarian uses her credit card, issued by the state, to buy a piece of chocolate, it is the end of story.

The latter actually happened in 1996 when Mona Sahlin was a candidate for Chairman of the Social Democratic Party. The chocolate and some additional minor negligence forced her to drop her candidacy after a witch hunt in media. No one claimed that she had gained anything personally (she paid the chocolate privately when she got the card invoice). But such trifles didn’t matter; she had to go.

And now journalists gather at the parliament’s administrative office to scrutinize every single one of the receipts Juholt has submitted through the years. With all his travelling it’s a massive work, but the most energetic rag has already found two occasions in 2007 (or something), when Juholt seem to have receipts for taxi and a rent car on the same day. Horror!

It seems that media consider this kind of hunting to be an interesting sport. After just a couple of days one paper ordered a poll to be taken to evaluate the effect of the hunting party so far. The ultimate aim is to bring down the game, at any cost.

Needless to say it’s the Social Democrats who suffer the highest risk of being victims of the most severe witch hunts in media. Needless to say, because 90 percent of newspapers support their political enemies.

2011-10-12 Wednesday
In Dagens Nyheter, our prime newspaper, one of New York Time’s star pundits - David Brooks - has a regular column. It’s somewhat strange since his political views are a bit exotic in our milieu, but he is also a master of nothingness, and in that capacity he is arguably a very skilled writer, producing easily read and journalistically effective texts.

This week he takes on the subject of innovation, partly in memory of Steve Jobs. He points at the Iphone, and notes that in contrast to that magic phone many other kinds of technical devices have developed quite slowly since the 1970s. He mentions airplanes, cars, energy sources and houses which all functions approximately in the same way as they did forty years ago. There are no colonies on Mars, no flying cars, no nuclear driven airplanes and things like that (namely what science fiction writers dreamt of back then).

I remember even earlier fantasies of the same kind: in the year 2000 everyone was expected have his own helicopter; people would not have to eat food, just to take a daily pill, etcetera. The obvious thing was that the fantasies were created mostly by romanticizing fiction writers. My impression is that true scientists and real technological experts refrained from such wild forecasts. If so, it could be because speculations about unknown things are irrational and thus meaningless, something Cartesians usually avoid.
Brooks’ point is that the development of new great innovations suffers from stagnation. And he is supported by a number of writers to whom he refers. In their eyes, the creation of spectacular new technical devices, which make a difference in our daily lives, decreases in number. It may be so, but those “big” innovations are not necessarily the most important ones for the material or economic development in society.

Actually, Brooks’ example, the Iphone, is an interesting illustration of that claim. The Iphone in itself is not as much a technical innovation as a conceptual one. But it hides under its shell a technological upsurge created in hundreds of different places which we don’t contemplate at all, probably because it is so utterly inconceivable for ordinary humans. The incredible speed of this development is described by Moore’s law. And these unbelievable technological advances are built on real innovations, not a single one, but a chain of innovations creating an increasing body of new knowledge.

This is how the important technological development takes place. Millions of small innovations, improvements and adjustments are continuously building new platforms on increasingly higher levels. For Brooks, a car from 1970 looks like a car today. Obviously it has four tires and a steering wheel, but that’s about it. In every detail, from the smallest ball bearing to the computer managed motor, it’s a different product with completely different performances.

These small but innumerous and daily innovations and improvements form incidentally the most important basis for technological advancement whatsoever. That fact is overshadowed by the greater interest for the spectacular manifestations of new technology that naturally attracts people like David Brooks, mainly because they don’t know much about the fundamentals of science and technology.

Most importantly the small-scale and continual technical development lays the foundation for increased productivity, which is the most dynamic factor for economic development.

2011-10-06 Thursday
Tunis, Cairo, Damascus, Bahrain, Sanaa, Tripoli, Madison, Athens, Birmingham, New York... What next?

2011-10-05 Wednesday
Long since last annotation here! Also long since the last scandal in Sweden? Don’t think so!

Sweden is a kingdom, one of these anachronistic remnants a modern society at a pinch can afford. Not that people care about the kingdom as a constitutional entity, but “it is nice to have a royal faaamily!” It turns out that the royal family life hasn’t been so nice, though. After decades of rather well-known secrets about the kings private escapades, the bubble burst with a new book some time ago where many of the secrets where put in print.

I will not dwell on the details here. First of all because it is his private life and the only thing about him which is remotely interesting is his public role. Secondly the whole affair is just depressing. Those interested in filthy details can probably find them on the Internet.

A real scandal occurred however two days ago when the king, in his capacity as honorary chairman of the World Scout Foundation, awarded his colleague in Saudi Arabia the organizations highest Medal of Honor. It compares with the Royal Blunder in 1980 when the king awarded the dictator Ceausescu of Rumania the highest Swedish order, Serafimerordern. Not that I wish king Abdullah the same fate as Ceausescu, but it would be a blessing to see him tried for his dictatorial misdeeds before a really impartial court of law in a genuinely democratic Saudi Arabia, sometime in the near future.

We have just been condemning a number of Arab dictators, for whom we recently had no objections; some of them we in fact supported actively. When the oppressed people practiced active democracy and succeeded to overthrow the dictators, our politicians immediately turned around and started to praise the democratic revolution, and abandoned the dictators. King Abdullah is one of the remaining ones, who not long ago rescued his friend and colleague in Bahrain from the people's democratic threat by letting his powerful military forces intervene in a foreign country, without much criticism from the west..

The kingdom as such is an institution since long apt to be stored in museums. To see the Swedish soap opera version of a king award a dictator version such as Abdullah, who has decided that women should be punished with lashes for driving a car, is just too much. I’ll quit!

2011-09-28 Wednesday

In the face of compact critique the board of SNS was forced to fire their managing director. It’s true that the man - Anders Vredin - lost his nerves when the heavy guys from the business community raised their voices. But the serious disrespect for academic principles was demonstrated by these “honorable” representatives from the higher economic spheres when they presumed as self-evident that results from research should fit their taste, or otherwise be silenced.

The most vulgar and autocratic attack on the scientists was made by the head of The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Urban Bäckström, a very prominent figure in the Swedish corporate world. He criticized the research manager and her presentation of the report, and demanded that the study should have had other objectives than the ones set up. He implied that the study was politically biased, which is standard demagogy when things doesn’t fit one's own political opinions.

Bäckström ones left his graduate studies in political economy for a job as an official in the government. His top position before the current one was as Governor of the Bank of Sweden. He’s more known as a kind of political figure than as an intellectual economist. In that capacity he couldn’t restrain himself so much as to respect academic principles, which would have been the wisest thing to do. Well, now he has experienced that the academic world has its own kind of power, which even the otherwise overwhelming economic might must respect.

2011-09-27 Tuesday
As for the result of the study made by SNS, namely that no improvement in efficiency or quality could be verified from 20 years of continuous privatization of the social sector, it’s interesting in itself. There should be no doubt that egoism in principle is a driving force, also in economics. We are more productive when we own the product, and cherish it with more interest. The problem is that one cannot simply transfer this driving force into an organization where many people are engaged and only one of them is the owner. Parts of the advantages are lost underway.

It seems that demand for profit is a main drawback for the private alternatives in comparison with the public and non-profit ones. Each cost reduces profits and it becomes a delicate balance to prevent cost reductions from harming the quality of the product. Another temptation for the private owner is to downplay the long-term view in favor of the short-term.

A telling example in Sweden is the recent introduction of privately owned pharmacies in a market that formerly was a state monopoly. Some of the public pharmacies were sold to private companies, but a majority is still in the hands of the old state corporation. The idea was that competition would make everything better. It should be mentioned that the state pharmacies often ranked highest when people’s confidence in corporations of all kinds were measured, so there was actually no public demand for a change.

One thing that have struck me through the years is that every drug you could need, even the most odd ones, was available on the shelf in the state pharmacy. In the very rare cases when this high standard wasn’t met, the staff could find on the computer screen which nearby store had the product, and made it available the next day.

Since day one of the privatization I have not once got everything on the list. Either the specific brand or the size of package prescribed is missing. But now it takes almost a week to get it delivered. And this goes for the public pharmacies as well. OK, there are costs associated with storing expensive drugs, so it saves money to keep stores quite reduced. Regrettably though, no one has discovered any lower prices for consumers, so the benefit stays obviously with the company and its owners.

Apart from the inconvenience, there is an extra cost which is entirely carried by the consumer, namely for time and transportation caused by the additional trip to the shop. If, say, every second customer has to do such a trip those costs surely exceeds the cost of keeping complete stores. The profits from reduced storing are thus paid by others, and for society as a whole the “economic rationality” in fact is a loss.

More important than the economic effects is that there already has been cases where the absence of absolutely vital drugs has caused severe problems for patients. All these factors explain why the state owned pharmacies ranked high among the public. In those days there were no such problems, and yet the prices were the same.

2011-09-25 Sunday
Social unrest in academic circles continues after the SNS scandal. Some very prominent professors in different social sciences, also members of the highest academic board of SNS, wrote yesterday an indignant article on the country’s number one debate forum in Dagens Nyheter (DN Debatt). They openly imply that SNS’s managing director, Anders Vredin, should resign for muzzling a scientist. (They don’t discuss the specific result of the study.)

The professors find it remarkable that high representatives of the Swedish corporate society, without blushing, expect “correct” scientific results from institutes they finance. But who can blame them for that? They are of course used to the fact that everything can be bought for money. Why not also research findings?

Likewise, the professors find it chocking that Anders Vredin was so intimidated by the reaction from the corporate leaders that he panicked, and made his unforgivable blunder. Although Vredin offered a strong apology as soon as he realized his mistake, the professors seem not to think that his excuse is sufficient to regain confidence for SNS and its scientific reputation.

This is a significant and interesting conflict, to be followed up

2011-09-23 Friday

The report I mentioned 2011-09-20 has of course stirred up anger in right-wing quarters. The research institute (SNS) is to a large extent financed by corporations, and unashamed conservatives argue that the scientific results should have been more ideologically correct. Affected by that uproar SNS’s managing director muzzled the research manager responsible for the report, Laura Hartman, who subsequently resigned. As a consequence of that violation of academic freedom a prominent social sciences professor also left the institute.

Well, the scientific study had in short shown that 20 years of privatizations in the social sector had resulted in no visible increase in efficiency and quality, the main pretexts for the private revolution in the first place. No one is actually amazed by that result since most people have personal experiences of those and similar failures. One typical example of a total fiasco is the privatization in the energy sector. People now have to choose between over 200 electricity suppliers, and the only result has been a sharp increase in consumer costs, not surprisingly.

Since the neoliberals certainly know that they have a weak case, they instead criticize the researchers for not having studied something else, such as freedom of choice and consumer satisfaction. One could cynically note the sudden and unexpected interest for human values shown by the otherwise anti-altruistic hardliners in the conservative bunker. But in war and love everything is permitted!

2011-09-21 Wednesday
The conservative government we have here started their attack on the unions as soon as they came into power in 2006. In words they stated their loyalty to the Swedish model, in which collective agreements and strong unions are core elements. But in deeds they immediately and considerably raised the fee that employees have to pay to the unemployment funds. Since the funds are managed by the unions, and many people couldn’t afford the fees, the result was a rapid departure from the unions by members, who at the same time lost their unemployment insurance.

We hear that public employees in Wisconsin, USA, have been denied their right to collective bargaining. We must conclude that representatives of neoliberalism doesn’t give up so easily in its fight against the unions, in spite of a demonstrated incapacity of the highest degree by that economic religion, resulting in the most serious economic crisis in living memory. And in busting the unions it doesn’t hesitate to violate human rights.

Article 23 of United Nation’s Universal Declarations of Human Rights has the following wording:

  •  (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

According to point 4 of this article, unions are expected to protect workers interests, and bargaining is a main tool without which unions are unable to protect any interest. Reasonably, to deny unions the right of bargaining must therefore be a violation of the Universal Declaration.

It’s all very interesting. Here our mainstream media maintain a constant and frequent critique of China, Cuba, Iran and a few other countries (that don’t obey western orders). Since these countries don’t engage in wars or even in military support of other countries, we have to focus on other deficiencies, notably in the field of the human rights. It’s true that these countries violate at least four of the thirty articles in the Declaration, and they rightly should be criticized for that. And so we do. Accordingly it has in our societal discourse become a serious crime to violate Human Rights.

Regrettably most people are not aware of all the articles of the Declaration, and those pundits who have some knowledge about them just ignore the ones not appropriate. Here we have certainly not heard anybody suggest that the governor of Wisconsin has violated the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And we will never hear that. For sure.

2011-09-20 Tuesday
In the past, Swedish welfare systems were almost entirely run by the state or municipalities. But a right-wing government 20 years ago started to introduce private alternatives for schools, health centers and institutions for elderly care among other things. There was a dominant conception in bourgeois circles that the publicly run operations were inefficient and lacked quality. The idea was that private corporations would remediate those deficiencies and, as a bonus, bring some freedom of choice into the system.

Today almost every fifth employee in the welfare sector works for a private company. Since the tax payers pick up the bill, in full, nice profits are more or less guaranteed for the corporations. In spite of the pretext of increasing efficiency there have been no studies made in all these 20 years to clarify the real effects of the privatizations, i.e. to see whether they achieved the assumed goals. The right-wing parties probably had no interest in any evaluations since they had rammed through the reform mainly for ideological reasons anyway.

Now an important study has been done, finally. It is made by a serious research institute mainly financed by the corporate society (and thus certainly not a left-wing resort). First of all they find it unacceptable that 20 years have passed without any evaluation of the privatizations. The researchers consider it grave since the citizens that need welfare services are in a vulnerable position and are depending on the best possible care; as formulated by the report: “To achieve this it is not sufficient with ideological faith as basis for decision”.

The conclusion from their research is draconic: there is no evidence whatsoever that privatization has led to any improvement of the welfare services: “private alternatives have not been the ‘miracle medicine’ that many had hoped for”.

My suspicion is that a possible increase in efficiency has been counteracted by savings and downsizing, and that the whole apparatus just has resulted in large private profits, with no benefits for the ordinary citizen.

2011-09-18 Sunday
In Sweden we have a strange kind of “socialism” that probably would puzzle most Americans. So if for instance people are short of time and need help with domestic work such as cleaning and gardening, they can hire a firm to do it, and the government will pay half the bill. It’s called rutavdrag. The pretexts for this reform given by the right-wing government included favoring gender equality and hampering a traditional “black” enterprise.

Well, Swedes have never been used to keep servants; we live in a quite egalitarian society when it comes to life style. The distribution of wealth may be fairly unequal, but the rich are not supposed to show off their opulence in public. And to do one’s own domestic work is considered a matter of principle. So it’s not surprising that only some 5 percent of households have taken advantage of the reform. (Nota bene: some x percent of the upper classes certainly adhere to the discrete and completely untaxed servants they have had for centuries.)

It’s natural to suppose that the 5 percent of households in question are among the more well paid. We thus have a system where 95 percent of the people simply hand over money to the richest 5 percent so that they can buy some extra bottles of champagne each month. Obviously a majority must oppose such a crazy principle?

Strangely enough even the Social Democrats hesitate to work against the rutavdrag, calculating that there are no political points to gain by such an opposition. And deplorably their gut-feeling may very well be correct. With the help of an overwhelming propaganda, the reform has been pitched as an increase in freedom and gender equality, so much so that the simplest calculations aren't made by those who pay the whole bill but get nothing at all of the benefit.

We can call it an illustrative example of how consent is manufactured in a society with allegedly all freedoms of expression intact.

2011-09-14 Wednesday
Noam Chomsky kindly sacrificed some of his arguably limited time to not just read, but also to answer my email. With his, as always, sharp eye he found a weak spot in my rather fuzzy remarks on the left-brainers. He finished his answer with some very encouraging statements. Well, I’ve had a word directly from the clearest mind in the known universe; a person who furthermore dedicates his unmatched skills to work for the benefit of mankind. Nothing could be more energizing for a man like me, who humbly tries to work in Chomsky's spirit, although on a level a hundred floors below. Thanks Noam, if I may address you in such a personal manner.

2011-09-12 Monday
Today Professor Chomsky is expected back from travel, so I try again to send my e-mail, slightly edited, as follows:

Dear Professor Chomsky,
It’s indeed presumptuous of me to occupy your invaluable time, but a letter to you has been on the assembly line for many years, and I can’t resist sending this version.
You have received all laudations there are, so I don’t quite know how to phrase my appreciation (in a foreign language at that), other than to say that you are a very important reason for living. The world must thank you limitless for devoting your sharp brain and unbelievable energy to the tireless and truly rational analysis of the most important problems, and for your enormous inspiration.
Being a left-brain type, with a background in science and technology, it’s a mystery for me how irrational and emotional thinking can dominate the social discourse the way it does. One of many reasons might be that left-brain types don’t find the social discourse at all interesting. Another reason, maybe more important, is that the right-brain types that dominate the social discourse don’t find the strictly rational approach appealing. In any event: your rationality is a light-house in a dark night, with a few scattered torches floating around.
Here in Sweden we have experienced full neoliberal rule since 2006, after some 80 years of gradually refining the Swedish Model, a distinct capitalist system with
Compromise as main regulatory mechanism. Some called it “the third way” between capitalism and communism, but that was just for propaganda purposes; private capitalism was never challenged. Nevertheless the principle of compromise resulted in some benefits for ordinary people that somewhat distinguished Sweden from other countries, for the better.
Now neoliberalism is in full swing. The new government started immediately in 2006 with deregulations, privatizations and sharp attacks on the allowances for sick and unemployed. The Swedes were chocked, and even the mainstream papers reported one scandal after the other. One of the cases that upset people was about a woman practically dying of cancer. In order to get her allowances, according to the new rules, she was forced to apply for work at the official employment agency. This was so grave that the government later modified that specific rule.
We have an odd system for private schools, euphemistically called “free-schools”. They are privately owned, but 100 percent financed with tax-payers money. This of course opens a high-way to windfall profits. The system was already in place, but got a shot in the arm by the new rulers. Schools were handed over to energetic individuals who just had to pay for the used furnishings. By stripping the schools from all extravaganzas such as libraries, special teachers, medical personnel etcetera the new owners often became millionaires on tax payer’s money within a year. Then, following the normal procedure, more and more schools, health centers and hospitals have been ending up in the arms of venture capital companies with their headquarters in tax havens.
One could fill pages with shocking examples of these fruits of brain-dead neoliberal politics. And people accordingly became furious. In 2008 the government rated catastrophically in the polls and the opposition was in the lead by almost 20 percent. A regime change in the elections in 2010 seemed inevitable.
Well, it didn’t happen.
As you often have pointed out, the real issues tend to disappear in our kinds of elections. Swedish voters are normally quite rational and susceptible for arguments, but this time something backfired. For one thing the Social Democrats didn’t take a clear stand against the new politics. Their leadership was trying to reach out to the middle class (in the European meaning of the word), i.e. strive towards “the center”, thus forgetting their core voters in the industrialized Swedish mainland. It also seemed that people got used to the scandals and began to prioritize their own situation. Those who suffered the most were as usual not themselves part of the debate.
I think that this example illustrates important dilemmas. Capitalism is stimulating productive forces (it’s progressive, as Marx wrote), and at the same time causing severe problems, especially for the already most vulnerable. But those who suffer the most either can’t be reached or opposes constructive policies. Many of them vote for the most right-wing party we have (like in the US), and shout on the Internet: “don’t touch my property”. I agree with you that it’s an important task for all progressive movements to try to mobilize all these people, but the mission seems sometimes impossible. Well, this is just pessimism by the intellect. When I listen to your talks on the net I regain my optimism by the will.

I base that optimism on the hope that there is a possible society which gives room for individual freedom, initiative and rights, and at the same time fundamentally builds on solidarity in all its common functions. So far mankind has not been able to combine these elements fully in one functioning society, but your very existence brightens the prospects.

With devotion, and warmest greetings!
Yours sincerely


2011-09-11 Sunday
For a couple of weeks already, Swedish newspapers have reminded us of the special tenth anniversary this very day. Today's paper has one single theme throughout the whole edition. It makes us think.

It makes us think about horrible atrocities, cruel deaths, mourning people and a chocked nation. Terrorism on a large scale suddenly, and for the first time, hit in the heart of our civilization. The whole world reacted with disgust for the perpetrators and with sympathy for the suffering country.

It also makes us think about the terrorism on a giant scale that we in the western world have afflicted other people with, often poor and distressed people at that. The number of dead bodies we have left behind us on our cruel crusade doesn’t count in thousands but in millions.

The ultimate thought could be only one: bloodshed is a bad method, especially for maintaining dominance over other people. If something good could come out of 9/11 it will preferable be that violence in all different strata of the social structure should be minimized, and that peaceful means, caring policies and solidarity between human beings will be perceived as a characterization of a wise and intelligent mankind.

2011-09-10 Saturday
My e-mail to Noam Chomsky got this kind reply:

Prof. Chomsky is unable to access email at this time, as he is traveling out of the country.
Please resend your message after September 12, if it is still relevant at that time.

I will take the opportunity to contemplate the original e-mail, to see if something can be improved, and will be back on 9/12.

2011-09-06 Tuesday
Sometimes there are things that you just have to do. I began to read Noam Chomsky's works in the 1970s, starting with The Responsibility of Intellectuals from 1967. Many years later I saw Chomsky's e-mailadress somewhere, and immediately decided to write him a mail in the future. That future finally came, and the mail reads as follows:

[The original mail is taken out for polishing, and will be sent next week. For reasons, see September 10th.]

2011-09-01 Thursday
Speaking of obsolete instincts such as racism and xenophobia - remnants from our reptile brain that we should have gotten rid of a long time ago - I came to remember a radio reporter’s story some 20 years ago. She was stationed in Paris and had come to know two Yugoslav women living there in exile. As fellow countrymen the two women were best friends and helped each other in the foreign environment. The relationship was ideal and they became really close. Until one day when they suddenly turned into mortal enemies. What had happened?

It turned out that one of the women originally came from the Serbian part of Yugoslavia, and the other from the Croatian part. So when the civil war broke out in their home country they rapidly adapted their ethnical roles and became bitter enemies. This is certainly a perfect illustration of the lack of common sense in our ethnical reflexes.   

2011-08-25 Thursday
In a number of ways the history seems to have gone backwards since the 1970s in this country. Old and formal rituals of many kinds, which had been discarded by the progressive youth, step by step reentered the social life. We have seen a quite massive conservative backlash on almost all fronts. And racism started to grow, slowly at the beginning and then accelerating. The question if there are any connections is worth studying.

The 1970s marked the end of “the golden age” in most of the industrialized countries. From the end of the war till then the economic growth was considerable. But what specifically distinguished the period was that the economic outcome was distributed in a relatively equal manner. That means that ordinary workers saw their living standards really improve; in addition to the salary also working hours and working conditions underwent a positive development. Unions in Sweden were offensive, and there were some large strikes, but the feeling was overall that democracy was starting to spread into the corporate world. A miniscule legislation gave unions some influence on corporate decisions on specific issues.

From the late 1970s this development began to reverse. The owners of the world realized that the game had gone too far and hit the brakes. With the help of mercenaries in different services they started to push the history backwards. On the ideological front Milton Friedman became the four-star general, leading a swelling army of neoliberal economists. On the most important political front Ronald Reagan was appointed figure-head (what he personally understood is disputable), and Margaret Thatcher became the wicked lieutenant. After 30 years one must conclude that the war was victorious.

The first “victory” was that economic growth fell to a lower level than in the previous 30 years. In USA ordinary employees have seen there salaries stagnate or decline, working hours increase and working conditions get worse. The only real “improvement” is that a miniscule fraction of the most opulent has become even richer. All industrial countries have been affected in the same direction by neoliberal rule, but mostly to a lesser extent than USA.

Thus arriving back to the “good old days” for capital owners we could also “enjoy” the really horrific crises that are typical of a mindless capitalism. Ordinary people who for the last 30 years have paid to watch the rich become even more insanely rich, once again had to pay for the crises others have created (some of latter now being promoted to the Obama administration). All over the world people have lost jobs, homes and savings; in the poor countries it’s a question of starvation and death.

With this as a background it is perhaps not a total mystery that racism is growing in many countries. Constructive ways of reacting to change politics are effectively barred. For the moment, that is.

2011-08-23 Tuesday

In the book I wrote about yesterday Georg Klein deals extensively with the question why we so easily adopt the idea that foreigners pose a danger, just because they differ from us in one way or another, ever so little. The fundamental instincts seem to be innate, and to have evolutionary origins. Survival was simply favored by vigilance and readiness to contest foreign competitors (who were ready to do the same). Even the impulse to commit murder is by some considered to be an inborn capability.

Be that as it may, but the terrible failure is cultural. We have a lot of instincts that we do suppress because they are not tolerated in a civilized society. But different manifestations of xenophobia are not subject to the same distinct civilization process as most other unwanted instincts. There are now thousands of racist websites, the most popular hate object for the moment being Muslims. (Not very many websites advocate rape, looting or other impulses we might have, but have learned to control.)

Even anti-Semitism is growing, exemplified by the recent development in for instance Hungary. In more “civilized” countries like Scandinavia racism is
disguised under the pretext of “factual critique of immigration policy”. Under the same disguise political parties have emerged, exploiting latent xenophobic tendencies among people. In Norway, the land where the horrible neo-Nazi terrorist atrocity took place, almost every forth voter supports a party with these shady ideas.

It’s bad enough that there exist opportunists who don’t hesitate to exploit hidden racist impulses for political purposes. But an important side of the problem is also why people in these days are vulnerable to irrational feelings of this kind. In the 1970s there were absolutely no visual racism in Sweden. Half a dozen stubborn Nazis had hibernated since the war but they laid low in hiding and were considered to be total freaks. That was it. We thought that this constituted a rational and civilized development that could not be reversed. It proved to be a naïve expectation.

How could history turn back so dramatically?

2011-08-22 Monday
Back to the keyboard after two weeks of computer-free activities!

Among other things I’ve been reading the latest book by Georg Klein, a prominent scientist (a cancer researcher) as well as an interesting author. His life is a fairytale in itself. As a Jew in Hungary he one day in 1944 was marched to a railway station together with hundreds of others, ready to be pushed into a cattle wagon, which would have taken him directly to Auschwitz and extermination. He knew what was at stake, and miraculously he managed to sneak through a dark and unguarded station building and escape.

For the months left of the war he lived with false papers in Budapest and was lucky enough not to be disclosed. In 1947 he came to Sweden and remained here together with his wife, a classmate from the Hungarian medical school. The title of his latest book is I will never return and discusses among other things the situation in Hungary during the war.

What caught my eye was a citation by Pál Teleki, a professor of Geography and Hungary’s Prime minister 1939-41. He belonged to one of the most distinguished aristocratic families in his country; he was a respected conservative – and an outspoken anti-Semite (which in those days meant no contradiction). Klein cites him in the book with a sentence he uttered to Klein's father: “The Jews have practically taken over this country’s culture and we must do everything we can to reduce their influence”.

Teleki was certainly not a Nazi. He denied the German armies free way through Hungarian territory to attack Poland. He also opposed demands from the Germans to pass through Hungary on attacking Yugoslavia in 1941. And when the Nazi-influenced Hungarian military obstructed the government’s orders and collaborated with the Germans, he committed suicide in his office.

What struck me was that his opinion regarding the Jews almost verbatim corresponds with the Norwegian terrorist’s view on the Muslims and their role in Norway. The important question is: how do distorted beliefs like these emerge?

8-06 Saturday
The irregularities concerning my notations this summer should be blamed on unusually nice weather for vacation activities. Now I'll enjoy a more structured leisure time and withhold all postcards for two weeks. Back on August
22nd. Bye till then!

8-02 Tuesday
The first funerals after the almost unthinkable atrocities on the island of UtØja in Norway have taken place. The number of dead is now 77, with many injured still in hospital. The whole nation is mourning and the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, has become a Father of the Nation and a trusted leader. A generation of future prominent-to-be Social Democrats have been wiped out by a fascist murderer.

In contrast to Stoltenberg, the Swedish Prime minister, conservative Fredrik Reinfeldt, has distinguished himself by showing an almost remarkable lack of interest. It took him 16 hours after the terrorist attack to make his first short and rather detached comment. Then he didn’t attend a memorial service held in Stockholm (and neither did the Royal family). For his strange behavior he received rather harsh commentaries in the press, even in the mainstream newspapers. The government’s bad manners were even more emphasized when the Danish government and Royal court arranged a special memorial service in Copenhagen, honoring the murdered young boys and girls in Norway.

While many people are wondering if Reinfeldt’s behavior in some way reflects his lack of interest in the lives of young Social Democrats, right-wing editorials (inspired by O’Reilly?) points out that the deplorable events mustn’t affect Christianity or conservative politics just because the perpetrator had those beliefs. We have indeed to separate these to phenomena (although we mostly did not succeed in separating Islam from Muslim terrorists)!

The young Social Democrats on that island believed in politics that cares for everyone. By consciously overlooking the political motives behind the brutal murders these writers diminishes the convictions held by the young boys and girls. That’s probably the most disrespectful way in which to serve their memory.

2011-07-27 Wednesday
Now Scandinavia has got its equivalent to Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber: a blond Muslim- and socialist-hater with the forever damned name of Anders Behring Breivik (there is at least one man with the exactly same name, and he will probably have to do something about it). The blond monster calls himself a rightwing Christian, which has driven the Fox talk show hosts berserk. Bill O’Reilly certifies that Christians never do the things that this Norwegian Christian did, namely kill 77 people, mostly young boys and girls, wounding a number of others.

(Old Bill just forgets his favorite president, Bush number two, the devoted Christian who was directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of thousands of completely innocent women and children in Iraq and elsewhere. But that’s another story of course…)

The similarity between Anders B B and his American colleagues is found in the grievances they experienced from a society that they weren’t included in. ABB is seemingly fairly intelligent but probably socially inhibited. He planned his attack on the government and the Social Democrats for about ten years. When he started the project he had already convinced himself that the Muslims where taking over Norway and that the Social Democrats were responsible for letting them in.

It should be said that Norway since long has had a very restricted number of people immigrating, compared with Sweden it has been insignificant. Despite that, Norway has for many years had what we call a “
dissatisfaction party” in the parliament, a party with the main goal of limiting immigration further, at least immigration from non-white countries.

Anders B B doesn’t appear to be a simple lunatic. But he has got a fixation to lunatic ideas, and in that he is certainly not alone. The Internet is loaded with racist and anti-Islamic voices of varying degree of madness. He has also had direct contacts with notorious groups with the same agenda, in England and probably elsewhere.

Our blond monster doesn’t have to be insane, at least not more so than the thousands of SS-men who committed the same kind of atrocities, and much worse. But he had the same fascist ideology as the SS-men. How did he end up there? Well, he was a product of a society that didn’t let him in, as it also threatens to leave many other young people outside. That’s where we have to start our analysis if we are interested in preventing similar nightmares to happen in the future.

2011-07-22 Friday
The worst catastrophe so far this year, according to mass media globally - the Fukushima disaster - has not yet injured a single individual, let alone killed anyone (from radiation). This paradox is based on the curious fact that nuclear accidents are classified by a special measure, with which every misfortune can be named a tragedy, regardless of the real consequences.

One would think that media had at least some interest in how this overwhelming catastrophe develops, but the silence is total. That is, if there isn’t an occasional incidence of high radiation from cattle fodder or something similar. In such cases a short report is delivered, without evaluating the non-existing risks, just to remind people of the prime disaster-of-the-year.

We have to go to the IAEA website to look for facts. But, as it happens, IAEA closed its daily log from Fukushima already on the 2nd of June, obviously since the plant status is fairly stable and the need for a daily log no longer is in place. The progress in cooling the reactors and the spent fuels pools is continuous, although slow, and there are no serious surprises to be expected.

The IAEA index page holds this message: “Prior to his departure for an official visit to Japan on 24 July 2011, Director General Amano stated that the IAEA welcomes the significant progress the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has achieved overall in implementing its ‘Road Map’ to contain and stabilize the situation in the aftermath of the nuclear accident at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi power station on 11 March 2011.”

Furthermore Amano said that “the company was ahead of the ‘Road Map's’ schedule in some areas. Based on their progress to date, the IAEA notes that their plan to achieve ‘cold shutdown’ by early next year could be possible.” A cold shutdown means that the hazardous phase of the whole experience has passed, and the greatest non-catastrophe since Harrisburg has ended without a single injury, as it seems by now.

The worst consequences of the accident will be the irrational setbacks for energy production in several countries, headed by Germany; this idiocy accompanied by severe damage on the already weak efforts to counteract the global warming.

2011-07-06 Wednesday
Today's one-liner apropos gender madness: is it artificial intelligence or natural stupidity?

2011-07-03 Sunday
My paper, Dagens Nyheter, has featured a series of articles about masculinity and the role of the modern man. As a closure they asked a dozen randomly selected, ordinary women the question: “What traits in men do you like the most?”. The answers were first of all totally incorrect, politically.

A majority wanted men to be strong and masculine. Some emphasized the importance of the difference between the sexes; that men were a positive complement to women. One 35 years old preschool manager said:

-      Men add other things to life than women do. They look upon things differently in conversations; they have other perspectives and experiences which I find enriching. Maybe specifically when it comes to children. Sometimes I think that men can have a somewhat more rational attitude towards parenthood.

So far the women in the questionnaire had learned nothing from what the gender lunatics have preached from every corner of the cultural world: That there are no differences between the sexes outside our social constructs, and that there consequently are no men or women other than in our perception (imagination). Or, to complete the lunacy: that there in fact are eleven different genders (depending on which text you happen to read).

But of course there was another side of the coin for the answering women: men should also have nicer and softer qualities, namely towards the woman speaking. They should participate in domestic work, take care of there children, etcetera; thus being both strong and soft at the same time. It’s certainly not easy to become the perfect man.

But what would men answer to the equivalent question? For instance something like this:

-      Women should be beautiful and sexy, be a master in the kitchen, take well care of the children and be gentle to their men, etcetera. It’s a bonus if they are intelligent, amusing and have social skills. (And things like that…)

There’s just one hitch: it’s totally inconceivable that men would be asked a question like that, and even more so that the answers be published in a serious paper. That fact constitutes a vital difference between the sexes, and proves that the politically correct are fundamentally wrong.

2011-06-28 Tuesday
Being home now a couple of weeks from an all inclusive-trip to Turkey, we could read in today’s newspaper that five tourists have died there recently from drinking “all inclusive” alcohol. Twenty tourists are hospitalized with severe internal injuries. It turns out that methanol had been added to the homemade spirits used for the drinks. The background motives are revealing.

Tough competition has made it necessary for hotels in Turkey to offer all inclusive, including all kinds of drinks. Since legal alcohol is heavily taxed, some 90 percent of hard liquor served at these hotels is either homemade or illegally imported. Obviously there are some criminally careless people involved in this business.

For us Swedes, coming from the vodka belt, free alcohol is an exotic phenomenon. At home we can buy beer, wine and spirits only in stores owned by the state through a monopoly company – Systembolaget. In small or even medium sized cities there is normally only one such store, and in the countryside you have to drive many miles to find them. Not surprisingly, when Swedes visit countries with easy access to somewhat cheaper alcohol they often make fool of themselves by drinking too much.

Our hotel hosted other people from the vodka belt, such as Russians. But there were no signs at all of over consumption, at least during daytime. One important reason was obviously that families with children formed a majority. However, we had complementary explanations such as these: The beer was almost non-alcoholic, rather thin and tasteless at that. The wine was also very light but sour, and the taste didn’t invite to any extended sipping. The hard liquor was simply nauseous. We tried a few drops of (what they called) gin and tonic. It tasted like pure turpentine and was undrinkable, so we left all that aside.

As a benefit from our abstinence we arrived home with eyes and kidneys intact.

2011-06-23 Thursday
The Wimbledon Tournament is underway, with its very special atmosphere. Today Sweden’s Robin Söderling played the former champion and unique fighter Lleyton Hewitt, the Aussie. Robin served well (the roof was on, which benefited him) but he made too many unforced errors, pressed by an opponent who played a more precise tennis. So for two and a half sets Robin seemed to be losing the match. With a sudden drop in Hewitt’s precision in his very last service game of the third set, Robin succeeded to break serve and take the set, somewhat unexpectedly.

The same procedure repeated itself in the fourth set, with Hewitt broken in his last service game, losing the set. But the player still balanced their respective strengths, so when Hewitt got an early break in the deciding set, one thought the match was over. But Robin replicated immediately and the rare lack of concentration in Hewitt’s game made him for a third time lose the final game, and thus the match.

While this was happening, the city of Lysekil decided to sell the only tennis arena in town, with two excellent Plexipave courts. Probably there will be no tennis played in the arena because the owners to be have other objectives.

It all started when the tennis club was forced to go bankrupt after being swindled by an elected board member. Since the loans were guaranteed by the city, there were no other solution but for the city to take over the arena. It soon became a matter of prestige for the politicians in the ruling parties to sell the arena to whatever buyer they could find.

The tennis players forming a new club couldn’t afford to buy, so the city decided to sell to what possibly is a bunch of crooks from a neighboring city. It will for sure be a costly adventure to expel tennis from the city. This has been argued for by many people and in many different forms, but prestige has ruled when the decision were to be taken.

So on the same day the tough win by Robin was accompanied by a tough loss for the 250 tennis players in Lysekil, Sweden. A sad story!

21 Tuesday
A minister responsible for financial issues in our government has uttered some critique against the banks, for instance for their bad habit to talk about “advisors” when they mean their sales persons. This is certainly just a small example of the complete lack of quality ambitions in the finance sector. By tradition this sector is characterized by a conception of superiority and sanctity which give them the impression of being independent of customer’s needs and whishes.

This seems to be an international phenomenon. At least in USA the financial sector is self-righteous in the same fashion, according to a professor of law, Elizabeth Warren. She is critical of the credit card industry which usually hides terms and conditions in small print clauses in pages of incomprehensible texts. Among those terms are confiscatory interest rates which the customer is not intended to grasp.

Warren points to the fact that there are governmental authorities to supervise and regulate for instance food and drug industries, but no protection for the customers from abuse by the finance sector. She argues for strengthening consumer rights in all aspects, and for forming a new official body with that purpose, which once was a promise by president Obama.

On the Internet there are some talks by Warren, which are very informative. She has analyzed the economic development for the middle class in USA during the last decades, and that is no success story. Ordinary families today are under more economic pressure than their parents were 30 years ago, and that in a society which has more than doubled its GDP in the same period. Her thesis is that the whole middle class is economically threatened in USA. And her arguments are convincing!

2011-06-19 Sunday
Our capitalist forces conquer one stronghold after the other, formerly guarding the Swedish model. The latest victory is the commercial television purchasing the Swedish rights to broadcast the Olympic Games in 2014 and 2016. Public service television couldn’t compete because the money has become too big. For the first time not every Swede will be able to watch the Olympics, a common good previously considered a public service in itself.

To complain about a thing like this must look strange in many countries where commercial media have dominated the market much longer. It’s even strange here among younger people who have grown up with zillions of channels and frustrating commercial breaks. We older mummies are unable to see any gains in that “development”.

It’s true that “diversity” (a favorite word among bourgeoisie politicians here) has increased. But since that diversity paradoxically has led to less variation, more idiotic programs and longer commercial breaks which everybody hates, it’s hard to see any progress in the supply of real variety. For my personal taste there were more watchable programs when we had just half a dozen channels, than today with hundreds.

Apart from me, the sports organizations are also protesting. We had a test case this year, when a smaller channel had bought the rights to broadcast the Word Cup in ice hockey, normally a national concern with widespread interest. This year the whole event sort of faded away because of the more narrow broadcasting, and the national hockey organization complained over the decreasing interest in the sport.

As for the Olympics, the root of the problem is obviously that the Olympic Committee wants to build up larger funds, and for that purpose sacrifices the Olympic idea of sports for everyone in the world, in favor of commercial interests which grants more money.

This whole thing is of course a luxury problem for us in the prosperous part of the world, but it is an illustration of the same mechanism that in less privileged countries deprives people of more essential means of living.

2011-06-17 Friday
Håkan Juholt was thoroughly rehabilitated in the general debate in the Parliament Wednesday. It was the first debate between the new opposition leader and the prime minister, and the outcome resulted in some whining but mostly silence in papers supporting the government.

After five plus years of undisturbed neoliberal reshaping of the Swedish model, here comes a man who speaks loud and clear about the price paid by the sick and unemployed for the government’s policy.

Due to the tightening of social benefits the Swedish state finances are in good shape. In addition the industry and exports have recovered rapidly after the international finance crash. But still unemployment is high, for young people among the highest in Europe.

But in all, the finance minister has got used to getting credit from the establishment, and everything has been looking just great. And then comes this Juholt giving voice to the ordinary citizen who suffers the grievances, or can watch them all around. OK, real politics has entered the Swedish arena, just like it has in other parts of the world.

2011-06-15 Wednesday
Our new opposition leader, Håkan Juholt, has made a poor performance in a TV interview recently. It was his first test facing tough questions, and he probably has to undergo a lot of training for the future. The contrast to his brilliant first speech (when no one could interrupt him) was too big.

In modern politics, where the surface often is more important than the content, it’s not a good sign for the opposition that its leader doesn’t master the specific art of improvisation needed for an interview. Nevertheless the Social Democrats have shown rising figures in polls since the new leader was installed. So perhaps the voters after all have a more mature insight into the real political issues than is usually expected?

And that is of course the case! If you for instance ask a person what grievances he is suffering under, he naturally knows what they are, and surely have suggestions on how to relieve them. It’s just that there usually isn’t any political instance for him to turn to. He is only offered surfaces without substance, and that’s not because of his own choice. That’s a product of the so called democratic institutions, designed to sell politics in the same way as tooth paste is sold, and to keep serious issues as far away as possible.

That’s why all media are so focused on Juholt’s failure during the interview. People must be constantly convinced that the superficial factors are the main ones, so that the real issues don’t bother too much. And the polls sometimes show that people have the capacity to see trough a compact media screen.

2011-06-11 Saturday
Oddly enough I caught a cold in a hot country, presumably the so called AC-sickness. It nevertheless kept me from doing any thinking for a number of days (so now the brain has got its vacation also). But now I'm back in Sweden, and back in business (almost) ready for the postcards.

2011-06-05 Sunday
The family has spent a week in the heat, so to speak. For Europeans it often means a visit to some country in the Mediterranean area this time of the year. For us it meant Turkey which for most people here is a coincidence; they travel to the sun and Turkey still happens to be one of the cheaper destinations. Most visitors have no intention to stroll in the old town of Side to enjoy the amphitheatre and other monuments from the Roman Empire. They swim and sunbathe, and that’s it.

The tourist industry in this part of Europe would be worth its own study. Our hotel was one of the more modest in the area; a five store building with a dining room the size of half a football field. Lots of families with small children, people everywhere and no chair around the pool free after eight o’clock in the morning.

When we look around we have a larger hotel as closest neighbor, and next to that another one and so on as far as one can see. It’s a veritable industry on a large scale, covering the whole costal area. I heard from a co-traveler that Swedish television had made an investigating program about this industry, revealing among other things the hard working conditions the army of waiters and service staff are suffering under. According to the program they work 16 hours a day and are paid barely two dollars per hour.

This kind of wage slavery is of course a prerequisite for us guests to enjoy this all inclusive hosting, with free food and drink almost all day. The largest number of guests to this hotel were Germans, followed by Russians and East Europeans, predominantly workers and others from the lower middle class, some of them probably quite recently acquiring economic capability to do this kind of travel.

Is there any issue concerning private morale in this picture? Should one refrain from this kind of travel? It’s not too easy to find out what Socrates would have said. While contemplating this, one thing can definitely be said: support workers unions wherever you are! And tip generously, but only to enhance the modern slaves’ economic courage, not to alleviate your conscience, because we don’t deserve any relief in that respect.

2011-06-02 Thursday
The poststructuralist relativism has not just denied the existence of different sexes, but has abolished the concept of knowledge altogether. A somewhat prominent female professor of pedagogic wrote in an official report (Genus och text), among many other unbelievable things, that a gender conscious physics provides a “relational” approach towards the subject, and that a lot of the traditional scientific content of physical science simple should be eradicated.

To claim that there is such a thing as knowledge (in physics) with a given meaning, is not compatible with strive for gender equality in school, is another wisdom she teaches. The name of this extraordinary professor is Moira von Wright, and she is now appointed president of a medium sized Swedish university in the vicinity of Stockholm.

That the world in some aspects is crazy we know. But the Nobel Prize for craziness should find very highly ranked candidates among the many Swedish gender lunatics.

2011-05-30 Monday
An Icon has been here for a short visit, naturally to Stockholm where she has most of her Swedish fans. She is “an academic star” according to our main newspaper, which was granted an interview more or less out of politeness. We are talking about Judith Butler, naturally.

We have lived in a postmodern era in which a woman can become an icon and a star by producing a garnished philosophical verbiage with no reasonable content. Her main thesis is that the concepts “man” and “woman” are merely social constructs devoid of any concrete meaning in a biological world.

Butler’s academic risk-taking includes not just that her thesis contradicts all real scientific research, but also that it completely opposes what ordinary people experience in their daily lives. Her influence on Swedish “gender studies” is fundamental and has more far-reaching consequences here than in for instance our Nordic neighboring countries.

To pick just one crazy detail from a large number of similar lunatic ideas in the “gender feminism” tool box: since there are no boys and girls, other than in our constructed imagination, all the children in kindergarten should be taught to play with the same toys. Toys that children chose naturally according to their gender, like dolls and cars, are “gender markers” and must therefore be avoided, if necessary just taken away.

The gender theorists claim that we in Sweden “have agreed” on such a brain-dead policy, although no one even has been asked the question. Wasn’t it for the feminist rubric put on the madness it would have been killed long ago. But who’s going to rebuke the women?

Judith Butler herself is obviously more reasonable than her disciples. To begin with she takes no responsibility for how others use or misuse her theories, and secondly she has more or less put the gender business in the background and is now working more with anti-war movements, justice and similar traditional left wing politics.   

2011-05-27 Saturday
Our new Coop supermarket, which I’ve mentioned earlier, is flourishing. Its parking lot is crowded all afternoon, indicating that people from all around the area has found a new favorite shop. Apart from all other attractive features it has got a perfect location right at the city’s entrance road.

The contrast to the former Coop store, located just a few hundred meters away, is illustrative. The old store was in many people’s eyes a more typical Coop experience, with meager assortment, not so fresh vegetables and fruits, and a limited number of regular costumers.

Now the staff has expanded with 30 new employees. The faithful old ones among them now seem to have got more energy and a new, positive spirit (and some of them also more important tasks). They cheer joyfully to us old regulars with a body language radiant with pride. In all, it’s a pleasure to shop in the bright, lofty new store.

Now and then I shop at the private ICA store down the center. They have obviously been hampered by the new competition and now it’s here you get a feeling of lost energy.

Why is this local phenomenon at all worth mentioning? Well, it just contradicts the main economic dogmas that underlie a lot of politics rationalized by the idea of the importance of profit driven private enterprises. Coop is namely guided by completely different principles. I suppose many in the US would call it almost communism.

Neither profit, nor private ownership is thus prerequisites for effective economic activity, although it sometimes helps. No one can deny that egoism is an effective energizer, but the private profit motive has an equally significant flip side. Lack of overall planning, sub optimizing, and for that matter profit itself, are inhibitory factors. All this gives room for successful competition from organizations that almost work like in a centrally planned economy.

2011-05-25 Thursday
The latest turbulence injuring the royal family threatens peace and harmony in the country, as it seems. Wherever the king and queen appears fulfilling their official duties, journalist gather in hundreds eager to ask questions, which they are denied (=one of the advantages in a kingdom). Instead they resort to the usual mischief to interview each other.

Our king is a pitiful man who has been forced to take a job that he most probably wouldn’t have chosen, had he had the slightest freedom of choice. As a child he was a playful little boy who lost his father at an early age. He suffered from dyslexia and was not very successful in school. It took him years to mature and practice for his coming role. As a young boy his main hobbies seemed to be fast cars, parties and girls.

In Stockholm once, in the late 70ths, I was driving nearby Nybroplan when a Porsche somewhat carelessly changed lane in front of me. With a quick maneuver I managed to avoid a collision. When I saw that the man driving the Porsche was our king, I had the odd thought that a real crash with the Swedish kingdom could have been interesting.

Even after becoming king it took Carl XVI Gustaf years to slowly adapt to his high position. When his loyal subjects listened to his speeches, they crossed fingers in hope for him not to make too embarrassing bloopers. Now, at the age of 65, when he finally has achieved some safety and confidence in his appearance, these old corpses fall out of the closet. All the royalists who have sheltered him, and probably felt sorry for him many decades, don’t know what to feel now, I suppose.

Of course all this is pseudo news not worth mentioning, a rule I just have violated. In a not too distant future, when kingdom is history, one will regard all this as quite stupid time-killers.

2011-05-24 Tuesday
It turns out that CIA has been performing investigations on Swedish soil directed towards suspected terrorists. It was discovered by their Swedish analogue Säkerhetspolisen (Säpo) when they targeted the same suspects. Experts here consider it inconceivable that the government wasn’t informed by Säpo. But the Attorney General doesn’t want to comment on the issue, and the prime minister says he doesn’t know of any details.

Had this been, say, Russian secret police operating in Sweden we would have seen an outburst of protests from all corners of the country. Before the news had spread all efforts would have been done to capture the agents. Then we could have expected the most serious diplomatic protests and intense media coverage. We had had a strong candidate for “news of the year”.

Now the story appears in a modest article on page 14 in the most important paper. A more prominent scoop, qualified for an op-ed on page 4, is a story about two photos that hasn’t even been published, allegedly showing the king in a room watching two naked women making love. This follows a book published earlier that reveals the king’s escapades with young girls at private parties. That is definitely the favorite candidate for news of the year.

The way media makes its priorities in these two cases tells you a lot, as Noam Chomsky often says.

2011-05-22 Sunday
- Two things are important in politics, the first one is money, and the second... I've forgotten.

That's a one-liner borrowed from an American thinker who's name... I've forgotten.

This is all I have for today. After a refreshing walk in a long awaited spring rain other things than just enjoying the very existence seem futile.

And besides, French Open in tennis at Roland Garros started today, and will distract me somewhat for the next couple of weeks. Which is not to say that I will stay away from this side completely. Certainly not, I hope.

2011-05-21 Saturday

In Europe there is something called public service radio and television, playing an important role in many countries. That’s the case in Sweden, where the public companies, SR for radio and SVT for television, dominates the trade.

An audience research published I while ago showed that two of the twenty most popular TV-programs (ranked 9 and 19) where produced by a commercial channel (TV4), the rest was SVT productions. All the other limitless trash from innumerable commercial channels was not in the vicinity of the list.

TV viewers here show with astounding emphasis that they want serious programs, sober entertainment and above all no commercial brakes. Except for the last condition, it wouldn’t be impossible for commercial channels to provide decent programs that people want to watch. But instead, there is a comical race to the bottom among commercial channels. For some incomprehensible reason their managers think that they have so provide the shallowest, if not the most stupid, programs available. And the viewers just chose SVT, of course!

In its worship of private enterprises the European Union has decided to put an end to the successful public service radio and television. Or at least make its existence harsher. The mantra is that governments must be prevented from interfering with the free market system by subsidizing public companies. One technique EU has directed is that new types of programs in public service channels must be approved of by some impartial body, the principle being that public service shall be barred from sending programs that commercial channels are able to produce.

Public service in Sweden is paid for by an annual license fee for owners of TV monitors, which now amounts to roughly 300 US dollars. SR and SVT are owned by a foundation, and thus not formally governmental organizations. Nevertheless the rules and directives for the companies are given by the parliament. The listeners and viewers costs for public service broadcasting is somewhat less than they indirectly pay for the commercial crap that only a minority really likes.

The best, most popular and most cost effective broadcasting companies shall be hampered in benefit of the brain-killing garbage, interfered by sickening commercials, that EU's favored enterprises produce. Well, Jonathan Smith, where are you?

2011-05-20 Friday
Well, SAAB may be sacrificed on the altar of the neoliberal church, if the metaphor isn’t too kind. Noam Chomsky holds that neoliberalism isn’t even a religion, but merely pure dogmatism (and he arguably has the sharpest brain in the US). If that is neoliberal economy, what then to say about neoliberal politics? I don’t think those words can be found in a common dictionary.

One of the most peculiar circumstances concerning this so called new economy, allegedly created by Milton Friedman and his co-thinkers, is that it definitely isn’t new. It is a carbon copy of the 150 years old Manchester liberalism, which in turn derives its roots from the 17th century and John Locke. Why was it then that Manchester liberalism and its night watchman state was abandoned a long time ago, and replaced by more socially conscious politics? Obviously it was because its consequences were too brutal towards ordinary people, the masses.

And this is still the core problem. A completely free and unregulated economy favors the rich at the expense of the poor. This is the very essence of the doctrine and the real motive for those who promote it. In the beginning of the industrial era the consequences of the unregulated societies were horrible for workers and poor people, not least observed by a man named Karl Marx. He inspired workers to organize and struggle to achieve changes.

The workers movements spread around Europe and elsewhere, and became a significant force not easily neglected. Thus Manchester liberalism was thrown into the ocean and gradually replaced by social liberalism and social democracy. This was obviously development towards a more humane society, a progress which in many ways culminated in the 1960s, at least in the industrial world. After that came the anachronistic return of Manchester liberalism, now just with a new name.

As expected, the economic divide between the rich and the rest have widened in more or less the whole world since the 1970s. The mechanism by which this class marker is spread is called globalization. In short one can note that neoliberalism has had no confirmed advantages other than this growing divide between classes. Economic growth and employment rate have sooner declined than the opposite.

The proper walk-over for neoliberalism since more than three decade is a real mystery, and is too much to clear up for this short column.

2011-05-18 Wednesday
The ones who doesn’t care if SAAB survives or not usually points to the fact that the company hasn’t been profitable over the years. And that is true, although the owners have shown considerable patience in that respect. For the society as a whole the question of profitability is of a different kind.

First of all SAAB has been a technologically very progressive organization. They have a reputation of building cars for engineers. As just one example the renaissance for turbo engines in ordinary cars was one of their achievements. The very existence of such a center for excellence in engineering development functions as a dynamo for further technical progress in the society.

Then there are a number of subcontractors whose production corresponds to a considerable portion of the assembled car. And those companies have been profitable, and in turn generated even more profitable production.

In a third circle we find the whole infrastructure of suppliers to the factory workforce, such as stores, construction companies, all kinds of services etc. There is even a forth circle of factors, consisting of the cost for the community from unemployment and other social disturbances caused by a bankruptcy.

If we add all these economic factors together and calculate the aggregate socioeconomic effects, we would probably find that SAAB is profitable for the society as a whole. If this effect was confirmed it would have been economically sound for the government to buy SAAB and thus save the company.

But that would have been a heresy from an ideological point of view, and is unthinkable for deep believers in neoliberal dogmas. Such things as rational decisions are not a high priority for that church, not to speak of caring and humanistic deviations.

2011-05-16 Monday
The destiny of SAAB, a rather well-known Swedish trade mark in car manufacturing, is a sad story. When its former owner General Motors got their big problems during the recession, they decided to shut down SAAB definitely. The right wing government here was addressed by different groups, like the SAAB workers and many others, and prompted to intervene with some kind of rescue operation.

(Small demonstrations here and there around the world had also taken place, documented in ads, showing that brand names can have a certain value. For instance a SAAB automobile did play a significant role in the famous sitcom Seinfeld.)

After all, car manufactures worldwide was hit hard by the economic crisis. In Germany the government had stepped in and helped Opel with large sums of money. But the Swedish government proudly stated their consistent and high principle: “The State shall not own companies!” And subsidies were not to think of. Some smaller measures were taken, but had no effect.  

At exactly the same time the government made its proud statement, it purchased (through the state-owned company Vattenfall) a Dutch fossil energy company for some 15 billion dollars, a sum that easily would have saved SAAB. No one even raised an eyebrow, and not a single word in the newspapers pointed at the total inconsistency.

After many problems and lengthy negotiations SAAB was sold to a shaky Dutch car manufacturer (the rumor had it that the wife of a high official at GM was a SAAB-lover, which was said to play a role in stopping the shut-down). Right now liquidity problems have caused SAAB to halt production temporarily. At the same time the Russian capitalist Vladimir Antonov tries to enter the picture, and discussions with Chinese interests are under way.

Today’s big news flash is a leak by Antonov’s Swedish representative. He says that a high official in the government’s office told him to drop the struggle for the company’s existence, because “we can manage without Saab”. True or not, the implication of the alleged statement is fully consistent with the government’s actions the last couple of years.

Likewise the most important paper, Dagens Nyheter, have from the very beginning been campaigning for the extermination of SAAB, for reasons impossible to understand. Why would a Stockholm newspaper enjoy the closing of a company that is very important for the region in which it is located? What they say implies that they just uphold the neoliberal principle: disabled enterprises doesn’t deserve to live. But why the campaign? Why work against a few people who desperately tries to rescue the sinking ship? If death is inevitable the system will take care of that anyhow.

One factor not mentioned is that the SAAB facilities are located mainly in Trollhättan, a town in the western parts of the country, far away from the capital. At that, Trollhättan belongs to the same region as Göteborg, home town for Volvo, and Stockholm’s biggest rival. My speculation is that the government’s interest would have been completely different had SAAB been Stockholm based. Of course it would be a Kafka world if such a speculation showed to be true.

2011-05-14 Saturday
To first sift and then spread 10 cubic meters of soil over a few hundred square meters of lawn (or rather a kind of grass-covered area) with the means of a shovel and a wheelbarrow is a man’s job. No visit to the gym has been necessary for a while. When the evening comes the physical fatigue is experienced as a feeling of intense well-being and signals that this kind of work is what human beings are constructed for.

Under the influence of such endorphin intoxication the computer is not appealing at all. All the big questions, normally so interesting, seems either boringly trivial or too complex to deal with. If my experience were to be universal it would have some sad consequences, first of all since so much important work in the modern society is done at a desk and in front of a computer. We are forced to live in a manner that we’re not built for. Evolution has simply not had enough time to adapt us to the modern type of life.

A related circumstance that we are not adapted to is the easy access to tasty and unhealthy food, almost thrust down our throats by unscrupulous food corporations driven by the need (greed) for short term profit. The result is an increasing number of fat people, threatening to shorten life expectancy for the first time in the industrialized era. The situation is somewhat better in Sweden than in for instance the USA, and the reason is the difference in degree of civilization, to put it bluntly.

Here there still is a trace of belief left that society should be interested in the well-being of its citizens. Thus we have a public health institute (Folkhälsoinstitutet) with the responsibility to inform organizations and individuals how people can achieve a healthier life, in which information about food and diet is one central topic. The institute is naturally a Social Democrat construction, which barely survived the shift in power 2006. Our reactionary party, likewise naturally, dislikes the idea that people should be able to gain from important information by a governmental body (and corporations possibly hurt) but they have so far been forced to keep their hands off the institute. The "information" they prefer is the propaganda that the junk food producers are bombing the public with.

So information is one factor that hampers the aggressive food industry here. Through daycare centers, schools, hospitals and other public institutions people become aware of what food habits are positive for their health, and as a consequence the worst kinds of destructive “food products” are kept out of the market. But the powerful corporate world has made some impact the last decades, and obesity is a problem here too, even among children. Indications lately show however that a possible turning point has been reached, and that body weights in children are going down again.

2011-05-11 Wednesday
Time to pay the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant a visit. We have to go there for ourselves because the newspapers have completely lost interest in the matter. No one can imagine that this very day only two months ago an accident happened that filled the newspapers here to the last page with descriptions of a catastrophe seemingly never before experienced. You could have thought that the survival of the world was in question.

The real tragedy caused by the earth quake and the tsunami was put aside, and the 25 thousand dead and hundreds of thousands homeless dealt with in what resembled foot notes. It was a dehumanizing experience to read papers and watch TV those days. And now the entire occurrence seems forgotten, except for a word here and there which now at last sometimes deals with the real victims.

Still there is no report of injuries from radiation, not even the slightest illness. The most exposed workers have received an effective dose of 200 – 250 mSv. There are two workers in this group. All other received doses are lower. It means that the two most irradiated humans in Fukushima have received the same amount of radiation that many inhabitants in Ramsar, Iran, children included, have enjoyed every year since the beginning of history.

To the plant itself now. The situation is slowly but gradually improving. The highest temperature in the reactor pressure vessels (unit 1) is down to 142 oC (one week ago). Pressure in the RPW of unit 1 is increasing, mostly due to the injection of nitrogen (no figures are presented), while the units 2 and 3 are stabilized at atmospheric pressure.

Radiation monitoring is continuously extensive, with radiation measured in many places throughout Japan, on the ground, in drinking water, in food, on humans, in the ocean (and probably in some more places that escapes me for the moment). The definite trend is decreasing radiation (from usually already low levels).

With very few exceptions there are no values exceeding the conservative limits set by the Japanese authorities and (apart from the plant itself) no values that really poses any risks. People in Ramsar, Iran and here in Bohuslän, Sweden, are used to much higher radiation doses than those unfortunate in Japan who are forced to leave their homes for some reason other than real risk. Psychological? Political? Journalistic? I don't think anybody knows.

2011-05-09 Monday
As shown in the diagram below (2011-05-04) half a million Swedes lost their jobs between 1990 and 1994. The reason was the bursting of a home-cooked housing bubble. In the late 80ths the social democratic government had deregulated the finance sector and the obedient Swede, used to be kept on a leash, was suddenly freed and became equally euphoric and crazy.

Most crazy of all were the bank managers. They started to shovel out loans right and left on absolutely insane grounds. There was for instance a hotel in Stockholm sold for such a large sum that the annual interest paid exceeded the total income from the entire hotel business.

Fantasy prices for all kinds of houses were based on the assumption that there somewhere was an even greater idiot to be the next buyer. It was thus a standard bubble, the same kind and same routine as always, i.e. since the beginning of modern capitalism. And the professional economists showed their absolute incompetence, also as usual. Some of them even repeated the same mantra known since centuries: “there are no problems because we have entered into a new kind of economy, bla bla…"

The dissidents were extremely few, but one happened to be known and somewhat famous. It was a bank official who refused to grant loans on fantasy conditions, something the managers demanded from his. He was degraded and moved down to a room in the cellar and given meaningless tasks. After the bubble had burst (and the bank saved by tax payers money) his destiny was noticed by the news media and he was acclaimed and promoted.

Swedish economy has in the 20 years since then recovered extremely well, the employment level not. Nominally the number of employed is barely back to the 1990 level, but the population have increased in number by almost 800 thousand, the same as the increase in the number of not employed.

Our government’s supply side economics has far from solved the problem. Unemployment has gone up and has reached frightening levels among young people. Now everything has been tried, by all kinds of governments, but the number of employed in the private sector is the same as in 1940 (in comparison an almost pre-industrial time). And no one seem to wonder what the real reasons are.

2011-05-08 Sunday
...was spent spreading a small mountain of topsoil onto the lawn. The computer has to wait until tomorrow, at least.

2011-05-07 Saturday
The other day I visited a local stone-pit to purchase some topsoil for the garden, and asked in passing if they had made any radiation measurements on the granite masses they where processing.

I asked the question out of curiosity, and the background was of course all fuss about nuclear radiation these days, and the complete inconsistency in the public debate. This part of the Swedish west coast (Bohuslän) is in fact one large granite mountain. It’s a kind of granite particularly rich in uranium and other nuclides, generating a considerable amount of radiation. In addition to that, Bohuslän holds the country’s most popular seaside resorts with innumerable visitors during summer.

How much radiation are we talking about then? We’ve heard that the Japanese village Iitate is going to be evacuated because the radiation doses received by the inhabitant are estimated to exceed the recommended limit of 20 mSv/y (millisieverts per year). In Bohuslän you can find many acre-large areas where you get this dose and more, some areas the size of square yards exceeding 200 mSv/y, and single spots with nearly 900 mSv/y!

The man at the stone-pit answered that the gravel they produced wasn’t accepted for use in concrete intended for construction, other than roads and the like, due to high radiation. He had no figures, but it is likely that the limit is routinely low. On the other hand there are no warning signs on the cliffs where you can park yourself sunbathing for a month on a 900 mSv/y-spot without knowing.

However, in neither case the radiation is dangerous since the limit values are set by the LNT principle, which is extremely unrealistic. LNT stands for Linear, Non-Threshold, which means that even very low radiation supposedly constitutes a risk for injuries, preferably cancer.

The LNT principle is not applied in any other case where risk is concerned, as far as I know. And if it were, the consequences would have been absurd. Many things we take for granted and essential to life would then have been necessary to ban. As a matter of fact many food ingredients, like trace metals and vitamins, are poisonous in moderate amounts, but essential in lower doses. In such cases, and there are more, it would even be dangerous to apply the LNT principle.

No harmful effects of radiation in low doses can be proved. Nobody has for instance been able to show that the frequency of cancer or other radiation-related deceases is higher in Bohuslän than in any other part of the country. This just follows the pattern in other areas of the world where the natural radiation is extremely high. And some of those places are thoroughly studied in that respect.  

The unreasonably strict limits when it comes to nuclear radiation reflect probably the inflated fears for this specific physical phenomenon among the public. That fear is canalized into political directives by cooperating scientists. In contrast the real experts in the field, such as radiation biologists and radio physicists, regularly tell the truth about the matter, and also regularly are neglected.

Not even the deep and thorough study of the Chernobyl accident - UNSCEAR 2000 – has met any interest. The reason apparently is that the real experts in that study reveal all the exaggerations in politics and media about the whole charade.

It’s a wonderful world, and all fantasies we live in make it even more wonderful!

2011-05-06 Friday
All emphasis on job creation here is directed to the supply side of the problem. Thus our government has cut down compensations for unemployed, sick, elderly and other individuals not in the work force, and at the same time cut taxes for working people. The idea is to stimulate the supply of labor in a market that demands only four out of five people of working age.

For 70 years now economists and right wing politicians have nurtured the dream that the labor market is functioning in line with neoclassical theory. At the same time the empirical confirmation of the opposite has been easily accessible. It could have been a mystery why economists have totally missed an overwhelmingly convincing development for seven full decades, were it not for the religious part of economic theory.

The central fabrications of this theory must be believed, as dogmas. If some facts
unequivocally points at a definite flaw in the theory, they are just ignored. And that is exactly what our government and our official economists do. Then they can get away with the idea that trying to force people into a labor market that doesn’t have a need for them is a way to create jobs.

In the early days of this government one (1) prominent professor of political economy wrote that the supply fantasy showed that “the government doesn’t understand economics”. But he was probably told to behave, because his simple statement of a basic fact didn’t return in the well-behaving papers.

Well, so far I’ve said nothing about solutions, but for an observant reader I perhaps have, after all…

2011-05-04 Wednesday
Here, and I believe in most capitalist countries, it is regarded as one of the government’s highest priorities to “create jobs”. And this is presupposed to be done mainly by paving the way for enterprises in different manners. Not just tax cuts for businesses, but also for the rich, is considered the standard recipe by our bourgeoisie politicians.

In Sweden there is much fuss about two minor laws from the 1970s which give the Unions a miniscule influence over corporate decisions. One of the laws calls for compulsory negotiations with the local union before certain important changes in the company can be settled by the management. But this is just called a “rounding mark” since none of the unions proposals have to be met.

The second law has a small jaw left (which obviously gnaws). It requires that the last employed have to leave first when a company has decided to downsize. If management has other wishes, those have to be approved of by the union. In practice the unions almost always accept the deviations from the rule. Not surprisingly since (in silence) it’s also in the interest of the unions that the best workers stay.

negligible obstacles that these laws lay in front of corporate managements are aggrandized out of proportion by employer’s organizations and some political parties. Obviously, even the most diminutive restriction on the dictatorial structure of private corporations must be fought.

Anyway, all this talk and these attempts (mostly talk though) to create jobs have been a total failure in Sweden, shown by the diagram below. After 70 years of this fruitless practice we still stand on the same spot. The only success in job creation comes from the fact that the Public Sector itself has hired people on a large scale. But this is planned economy (a sort of communism, if you like) and is not what we mean by job creation. And there is of course more to say on this matter…

2011-05-03 Tuesday
The solution to the job question will have to wait for a while...

Today it’s too much noise after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Half the morning’s paper was filled with ObL-news and comments. Now that he is dead it will probably be sealed forever which role he really played in the events of 9/11.

When the attacks took place in USA he was quite isolated in the Tora Bora caves in the Afghan mountains. Regardless of that his position as the leader of al-Qaeda suffices of course to make him responsible for the actions taken by the movement. But for the sake of history it would have been interesting to learn more about how the operations were planned and prepared in detail. If for no other reason, just to know how to be better prepared the next time.

Osama’s moral flaw was that he tried to obtain his goals by killing other human beings. Now we have killed him. As an act of retaliation, where does that position us on a moral scale? Through history we (Europeans and Americans) have killed and murdered millions upon millions of human beings, usually with the most disgusting motives. For some reason this just don’t feel like a perfect day for wild exuberance, rather for some quiet contemplation.

2011-05-02 Monday
Yesterday was May 1st, the international Workers Holiday celebrated everywhere except in Canada and the United States (and perhaps a few odd dictatorships here and there). But it should be said that the demonstrations and ceremonies are not what they used to be here. Not the same number of people marching, fewer demonstrations and speeches, and not at all the same number of orchestras.

In some cities the whole procedure is reshaped into social gatherings without marches altogether, marking the transformation of the conditions for blue collar workers into something more like those of the middle class. But still there certainly is working class solidarity, now aimed at the unemployed, the sick and the disabled.

The underprivileged are today forming a proletariat with somber prospect for their entire future. Altogether it’s calculated that this group amounts to one million, or 20 percent of all people of working age. Young individuals have to go unemployed for years and many will never enter the working community. Premature retirement is the “solution” left over for lots of even young men and women.

This follows the pattern in developed capitalist societies. Due to continuously increasing productivity, combined with a never failing drive towards higher profits, there will always be a surplus of people searching for jobs. If no structural change of significance will take place in the labor market humans will probably be even more superfluous with each year passing.

Swedish labor market illustrates this development. The private sector here employs exactly the same number of people today as it did in 1940, i.e. 70 years ago! The peak of employment for this sector occurred around 1965. Since then it has been steadily falling.

Between 1940 and today the number of residents have increased by three million, or 50 percent. In relative terms the private sector consequently has lost remarkably in importance as a supplier of jobs. An emerging and then growing public sector has taken care of a large part of the working force, but the number of people not working has also risen sharply since the mid 1960s.

Well, that’s the problem. The solution will have to wait until tomorrow.

2011-05-01 Sunday
One week off for this blogger and no other excuses than some garden work and an income-tax return (or three, to be more precise) to be posted last Friday. This latter was some years ago a complicated job, for which many people demanded expert help, especially if you happened to run a small business.

Today the tax authorities already have collected all information about salaries, pensions, interest on bank deposits and on loans, pre-paid taxes and some other things. All these figures are pre-printed in the tax return form which is sent by mail to each tax payer.

Consequently the ordinary wage-earner only has to confirm the data and sign the form, which can be done on the Internet. So what formerly meant some hair-tearing and sweaty couple of days for mathematically untrained citizens is nowadays done with a flip of the wrist.

The easiness around this whole procedure probably make people less interested in searching for possible deductions (of which there are very few for the ordinary person anyhow), and is in this respect profitable for the tax collecting bodies.

Those who insist on running a small business, even a one-man enterprise, (like myself) still have to make some calculations to do their income-tax return. But with the help of specially designed and quite cheep data programs it’s a piece of cake, that too. And those with larger businesses just hand over the whole problem to an expert, owned or hired.

So we don’t have to curse on these special days of the year, as we formerly did. Instead we can relax and enjoy the feeling that we support necessary societal functions with our taxes. This is not meant as irony. Opinion polls in fact show that Swedes are remarkably positive towards paying taxes.

This they explain by the fact that they appreciate what the society gives back in return for their money: health insurance, schools, caretaking for old and disabled and all the other things we all together provide for ourselves and for those who have special needs.

This sounds like cheep PR, and in part it is. Our latest government with its anti-social agenda is piece by piece painting gray shadows over the aspects of the Swedish model that has to do with solidarity. And by that there will soon be no model left, just a majority of a people who want the model back, but voted for the wrong parties.

2011-04-23 Saturday
To round up this spiritual thing I have to admit that we not just got our religious freedom as late as 1951, but also that we had an official state church until 2000. There are still some residues left, like for instance that the King must be a Lutheran Christian and that the opening of the parliament each year must begin with a Christian church service, though not with mandatory attendance. (By coincidence I just listened to a radio program about secularism, where I was reminded of these facts.)

So the Swedish secularism indeed has its shadows. And it also should be questioned if the sum of beliefs is not constant after all. Here people believe in some weird things, like postmodern gender theories, a quasi religious resistance towards nuclear power, likewise some irrational environmental ideas (which is not to say that there isn't rational such ideas), bizarre social constructivist fantasies and a bunch of related peculiarities.

Like most western countries we have for the last three decades suffered the intellectual breakdown caused by postmodernism. If we in Sweden have been more vulnerable towards such influences because we didn't have "a real religion" to cling to, it's even a question if we have indeed gone from bad to worse. Hopefully it's not that bad, but the backlash for reason is in any way hurting badly.

I think we must put our faith in a coming revival of rational thinking and reasonable behavior. This is a matter of faith, since we by definition cannot persuade our emotionally monitored adversaries with rational arguments.

2011-04-22 Friday
Today is Good Friday in Sweden, here called Long Friday and formerly (back in my childhood) one of the most sacrosanct days of the year. Everything was closed, certainly cinemas and all other forms of entertainment. It was really a long day with nothing to do.
What's left of that nowadays is a day off for most people and no paper in the morning. In everything else it's a normal day with all large stores open and the usual supply of entertainment available. The former dominance of the churches in prescribing the norms for behavior this day has completely vanished.

Hence, Sweden has not always been an extremely secularized country. We had a state church, to which it was compulsory (until 1951!) for citizens to belong if they weren’t believers of any other religion, approved of by the government. To be an atheist was thus technically illegal. All this seems today almost unbelievable.

Contrary to Sweden and many other countries USA from the very beginning made a strict division between state and church. In that respect USA was the more secularized country. From then on the movements have gone in contradictory directions, with USA soon in a condition which almost reminds us over here of the medieval ages.

Before I get to hostile, I better refer to Good Friday and stop this work.

2011-04-21 Thursday
Media have suddenly very little or nothing at all to report from Fukushima. A trivial observation indeed, since there is nothing horrifying going on any more. Or to be more precise: there is nothing going on that even with the usually low standards of credibility can possibly be portrayed as horrifying.

That is not to say that everything is back to normal in any way. It’s a scene of a serious accident involving some risks, primarily for the workers at the site and secondarily a small risk for ordinary citizens. But progress is continuously made, and the risks in question are miniscule compared to the fears or expectations of our antinukes.

Radiation measurements in places around the country show low or very low radiation, with only few exceptions. For the water supply in one small village and for one specific sea fish there are restrictions to infants’ consumption.

In the plant itself temperatures in the reactor vessels (RPV) continue to fall. Unit 1 has still the highest temperature, but it is now down to 154oC
(compared with 180oC two days ago). In that unit nitrogen is injected into the containment vessel to prevent hydrogen combustion. Pressure in the RPV is increasing, but not alarming in any way.

Units 2 and 3 have atmospheric pressure and temperatures around 100oC in the pressure vessels. Cooling with fresh water continues. The situation for the spent fuel pools seems under control.

Another positive sign is that the IAEA briefing will take a brake and be back the 26th this month, if nothing significant happens before that. I think we can all relax during the holiday, and we may wish the antinukes a particularly pleasant rest too.

2011-04-20 Wednesday
"To big to fail" was the proverb coined during this last, but not final, finance crash. The finance companies who lost other peoples money was helped from going bankrupt by the taxpayers. And the crooks who committed the fraud were soon rewarded with even higher bonuses than before. I stumbled on a suitable variation of the proverb today: "To big to jail."

2011-04-19 Tuesday
Four Social Democrats, more or less prominent, were made room for today on the most important forum for debate, the Dagens Nyheter’s guest column. There they advocated for the dismantling of nuclear power plants in Sweden.

It should be added that all four belong to the Stockholm wing of the party, a small junta in numbers, though influential due to their geographical positioning in this nation’s power center. A large majority of the party, some 85 percent, many working in all the different industries around the country, have long been in favor of continued operation of the nuclear power plants.

After accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima polls show slightly declining numbers in favor of nuclear energy, but after a while they are expected to rise again. So there is not much time for the antinukes to make use of the momentum created by the current situation.

Today’s briefing by IAEA about the actual state in the Fukushima plant show continual progression. Cooling is working and the temperature in the reactor pressure vessel of unit 1 is now down to 180°C. Pressures are stabilized. Temperatures in the spent fuel pools range from 33oC to 68oC.

Radiation is monitored around the country daily. I-131 was detected in just one prefecture at a very low level. Likewise the deposition of Cs-137 is limited to 8 prefectures with a maximum of 66 Bq/m2.

Measurements on food samples “indicated that I-131, Cs-134 and/or Cs-137 were either not detected or were below the regulation values set by the Japanese authorities”.

To quote from the IAEA briefing:
“On 17 April, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced that TEPCO had issued a ‘Roadmap towards Restoration from the Accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station.’ The roadmap outlines 63 measures to be taken in two steps over a period of six to nine months. TEPCO declared they will ‘make every effort to enable evacuees to return to their homes and for all citizens to be able to secure a sound life.’”

Now it’s for the antinukes to strike while the iron is hot. But things are rapidly cooling off in every respect, and the time is short. Already now it can be concluded that the “catastrophe” in Fukushima most probably will end without a single casualty due to radiation. Will that impress the antinukes? Certainly not. They are adhering to a world where facts and reasoning have its own definition.

2011-04-18 Monday
Sweden is held to be the most secularized country in the world. Some 80 percent of people here claim that they don’t believe in any God. Still many believe in the existence of Hell, the most prominent of those Hells being the Nuclear Energy Society.

After the upsurge and decline in socialist movements among young people in the 60ths and 70ths, the focus for many was shifted to fight nuclear energy. The pronounced exceptions in Europe were catholic countries, like France, Italy and Spain. “They don’t need that stuff, since they’ve got a real religion to cling to” was a sentence I happened to overhear from a distinguished industrialist in those days.

For many antinukes it’s a question of profound conviction. Those groups cannot be reached by any substantial or rational arguments whatsoever. It’s all a matter of deep belief based on dogmas which they call facts. Alongside those activist groups hibernating from the 70ths, the whole of the humanist society adheres to the antinuke religion. Artists, authors, actors, journalists and all other aesthetes are for once strangely united over this issue.

Sensitive souls, like my, who worship science, logic, facts and rationality have had a rough time since the tsunami in Japan. Newspapers, television and radio flooded with purely emotional reports, competing only in their attempts to avoid facts and reason and to create fear and discomfort.

And now we have the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident coming up on the 26th of this month, already celebrated with full pages of Pripyat-pictures in my paper. It’s certainly treated as a celebration. Chernobyl is the pearl in the crown for the whole antinuclear movement, something they worship tenderly.

An absolute requisite for them is to denounce the UNSCEAR 2000-study, which almost entirely silences the Chernobyl part of the sermons held by the antinuclear priests, and therefore must be ignored. If it cannot be ignored it’s absolutely forbidden to mention anything that the study reveals, because it is impossible to argue successfully against the facts and analysis delivered by some 100 plus of the worlds absolutely most distinguished experts in the field.

So when UNSCEAR 2000 is mentioned it’s in passing, and in par with environmentalist “expert reports” by authors who even don’t know how to pronounce Phthalate properly (in Swedish it’s even harder). No wonder we sensitive rationalists have a hard time these days.

2011-04-17 Sunday
I'm back, but not much more. When one starts doing garden-work, time flies. What was left was just enough for a few lines on the Swedish page. I try again: Back tomorrow!

2011-04-16 Saturday
Time to fill in the forms with incomes and deductions to the Swedish IRS. This, and some other work, gives me a day off from the blog. Back tomorrow.

2011-04-15 Friday
I have touched earlier upon the ICA versus Konsum (or Coop) question, the private versus the cooperative retail chain for everyday commodities. Now Coop has built a new large store in this small town (Lysekil, on the west coast of Sweden) on an attractive location, with premiere yesterday. The store was packed from morning till late evening with people admiring the luxurious establishment and queuing half an hour to pay for there gods. Everything brand new, latest technology, a bright and airy building. People in these remote regions are not used to such things. ICA in town is from now on facing a tough competition.
And it was all created, constructed and produced by people who don't have any profit to look forward to, not even any bonuses. They just work for ordinary salaries, which in Coop’s case probably are among the more modest ones. If we were to take the textbooks on political economy seriously, such a thing could not really happen. ICA should attract the most productive of Coop’s employees, and systematically leave the cooperative with the least competitive resource all through. In the long run Coop should be ousted from the market.

But that doesn’t happen. The cooperation in Sweden is more than 100 years old, the English counterpart even older. So it’s just an empirical fact that private profit isn’t the only, or perhaps not even the most important, prerequisite for a successful business. What these other factors are is something my textbooks in economy didn’t treat with any depth, or treat at all. That lack of interest is probably more telling than anything else. Some suggestions for appropriate answers will turn up on these pages, now and then.

2011-04-14 Thursday

The consequences of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 was thoroughly and extensively studied by a United Nation’s expert committee, who delivered their report, UNSCEAR 2000, in the year of the title.

Eight years later the committee made a follow-up in which they scrutinized the findings and implications presented in the original study. In that 2008 report they stated:

“Based on 20 years of study, the conclusions of the UNSCEAR 2000 Report can now be confirmed.”

They consequently verify that the emergency and recovery operation workers who received high doses of radiation, along with children exposed to radioiodine, are at an increased risk of radiation-induced health effects.

The last sentences of the report are these:

“The vast majority of the population were exposed to levels of radiation comparable, at most, to or a few times the annual natural background radiation levels and need not live in fear of serious health consequences. This is true for the populations of the three countries most affected by the Chernobyl accident, Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, and even more so for the populations of other European countries. Lives have been disrupted by the Chernobyl accident, but from the radiological point of view, generally positive prospects for the future health of most individuals should prevail.”

In comparison with the common superstition glued to the very name Chernobyl, these are comforting words. The problem is “merely” that this expert view, the best there is, cannot find its way into the public discourse. Therefore people have mostly false information to rely on.

Worst off are the so called intellectuals, who deliberately keep themselves ignorant, not just of Chernobyl, but of the whole nuclear power issue, facts about radiation and everything else that could disarm their existential fears which they cherish. Therefore they don’t want their horror picture disclosed, it seems.

3 Wednesday
We have a special Minister for Social Insurances. When the center-right government took power after the 2006 election a woman was given that position. She had to administer, among other things, new brutal rules restricting the benefits for sick people. This was party orders which she had to implement.

Together with other outrageous attacks on the poor, the sick and the unemployed this made ordinary people furious. The support for the government in 2008 became record low. Strange enough the opposition couldn’t (or didn’t want to) capitalize on the public sentiments and the next election saw a second period for that previously hated government. That was probably a Swedish record in lost opportunities, as far as politics is concerned.

Nevertheless, the poor woman who had obeyed orders was made a scapegoat for the bad PR and was thrown out of the government. And in came a somewhat younger wannabe who made clear from the beginning that he wouldn’t back off. But after the arch bishop had paid him a visit, and media continued to make noise, he announced some changes.

Now there was a catch. In order to prevent the opposition from interfering in the details for the new rules, the proposition had to wait until this autumn when the main budget is presented. There is a law, namely, which provides the main budget to be accepted or rejected as a whole. Then the opposition parties cannot cooperate to change a specific part. Every issue that is connected with money in any way can be proposed by the government within the main budget.

So, in order to preserve the government’s prestige, the suffering sick people have to wait an extra eight months for a possible relief.

2011-04-12 Tuesday
The Fukushima accident has uncovered the old and widespread radiofobia, fostered and nurtured with exceptional intensity in cultural circles. I’ve tried to throw in some facts into the debate, with a couple of emails to cultural profiles. To the extent that I have received answers it was obvious that facts had nothing to do in this debate.

Our gifted literary intellectuals still convinces themselves that Chernobyl was one of the most horrible catastrophes of the 20th century, with hundreds of thousands dead and an area “the size of Switzerland” evacuated. The unnecessary facts are that the number of dead from the very accident is 30, and about another 30 in all the years up till now from latent radiation injuries. And that there simply doesn’t exist any other deaths from radiation. And that people were forced to abandon their homes to just a limited extent because of real radiation risks, and overwhelmingly due to hysteria that had hit ignorant politicians and journalists, among others. (But from an area just a fraction of Switzerland's size.)

And here we go again in Fukushima. Not a single human being has so far been seriously injured by radiation, let alone died. And the most dangerous phase of the accident has passed.

Of those working closest to the reactors a few have got a radiation dose exceeding 100 mSv. No one has yet got 250 mSv, which is the limit for rescue work. Is that much? Authorities in Japan is now planning evacuation of villages outside the 20 km radius, since the radiation dose for the inhabitants is estimated to reach 20 mSv in the course of the coming year.

Well, if you live in Ramzar in the western province Mazandaran in Iran you get our "emergency" dose of 250 mSv or more each year, due to natural radiation (mostly from Radium-226). There is no enhanced frequency of cancer in Ramzar; actually it seems to be lower than normal. It’s a popular sea resort famous for its hot springs, probably heated by natural nuclear power.

Okay, maybe our eggheads think that natural radioactivity is something else than (the exactly same) radioactivity created by engineers. Or they have some other excuse for avoiding all real facts. Possibly they are just living in their constructed “reality”, a common phenomenon in their beloved postmodern and fictitious world.

2011-04-11 Monday
On the Swedish page today I update readers here about the current struggle in Wisconsin for employee’s fundamental rights. The most fundamental of these, the right to be a member of a workers union, and to found such a union, is guaranteed by Article 23 in UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.

The question is whether Governor Scott Walker violates this specific article. If someone would charge him with that, it would be an easy case for celebrity lawyers to counter. But the guilt is not legal but moral, and that should not be a trivial issue. Everyone knows what the declaration means by ‘the right to be a member of a union’. It certainly doesn’t mean to prohibit workers unions from collective bargaining, or to deny them the right to strike.

We can for instance compare with the Chinese view on the right of free expression, and their actions related to that. At least in western countries not many believe the Chinese officials when they say that Liu Xiaobo is imprisoned on grounds of ordinary criminality. We are quite certain that he is silenced by the countries leaders as a dangerous dissident. Consequently that China is not living up to the Declaration of Human Rights.

We widely consider this specific deficiency in the Chinese political system one of the countries most severe crimes against its own population, and we hold it up as a main reason for our very serious critique. Since we obviously, and rightly, regard human rights as extremely important components of a civilized society, simple logic demands that we live up to the highest possible  standards ourselves.

The first step on this route should be to scrutinize those other 26 articles of the UN declaration, not just the four we apply on China and some other states that, odd enough, share the property of not obeying our orders.

2011-04-10 Sunday
Sunday came with even more warmth: 15 oC. And consequently less time at the computer this day too.

On the Swedish page today I referred to some articles in DN about the declining quality of the Swedish schools. It’s an undisputable fact that high school students here don’t perform nearly as well as for instance Finnish students. Pointed out as one important root to the problem is the educations of teachers.

What we observe is, among other things, depressing consequences of the poststructuralist infiltration of academia. Apart from inspiring absurd forms of gender studies, relativist ideas have also had detrimental effects on the social sciences and the education of teachers. The foundation of these ideas is that there is no certified knowledge (or any knowledge at all according to the fundamentalist view).

Anyone can realize how destructive such illusions are for the teaching of students. And the illusions are real. One female professor of pedagogic studies have, in an official study, quite seriously demanded that factual element of the traditional physics field have to be removed in order to create “gender sensitive” physics. The report is full of this kind of nonsense. Yet the professor was later promoted to become rector of a fairly large university.

This is one effective way of destroying a society which used to be quite reasonable .

2011-04-09 Saturday
It's 8.30 p.m. and not much time has been spent at the computer today. Spring is very late here, but this day suddenly came with warmth and sunshine. All accumulated work in the garden has to be done, and the time is shorter than usual. It's a small garden, but plants have enormous growth power. One barrow after the other are filled with twigs and leaves. But it's a joyful work in the sunshine, birds singing in all kinds of tones. After an unusually long Swedish winter this is like a taste of paradise.

So, excuse me! Nothing whatsoever in world affaires can compete with this, and I just rest my case. And soon will get some rest for my body too. Back tomorrow!

2011-04-08 Friday
Friday today and not much happens. Couldn't find a word on Fukushima in today's paper. Nothing better to do than to make fun of our finance minister, Anders Borg. The picture (two years old) shows some main points for a speech he was about to hold. The points translated as this:

1) Serious economic situation
2) Protect public finances
3) Very [exp...] politics
     35 + 9 + 15 = 60  [sic!!!!!]
4) Clear priorities
5) Critical towards the opposition.

A finance minister who cannot do the simplest arithmetic! The opposition and comedians had some joyful weeks.

2011-04-07 Thursday
Some Arab dictators have been overthrown by there subjects, others are probably packing their bags and others still are sensing the gun smoke in the air. It's becoming the Year of the People. It remains though to secure the true democratic outcome of the processes, not a self-evident result in any way.

Western countries have finally, and somewhat reluctantly, agreed to help the insurgents in Libya, the lack of enthusiasm stemming from the fact that Khaddafi at last had accommodated to “civilized” norms. He had started to be cooperative, held back Islamic fundamentalists and delivered oil and gas properly. That’s obviously all we ask for when we judge dictators in that region.

What will happen if people in the oil heartland – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates – start the same process is the real touchstone for western altruism. Today there are no signs of that nature. The dictatorships in those countries seem to be rock solid, consolidated in every way by USA and the rest of the western world. The fact that they are absolute and harsh dictatorships, with values which in some respects are more mediaeval than contemporary, does not bother the leading lovers of democracy, namely us.

But the sheer movement is uplifting. First we saw Latin America progress in the direction of substantial democracy, then the Arab countries. One of these days we may perhaps see real power, including economic power, in the hands of a majority of the people even in the western (nominal) democracies. Who knows?

2011-04-06 Wednesday

On March 13th this year Noam Chomsky held a speech in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he brilliantly (as usual) commented on some current and important issues in world politics. I’ll certainly come back to this intellectual giant and compassionate conscience for the humanity as a whole. But today I’ll pick up just one single remark he made, namely that 20 percent of US citizens qualify for food stamps.

It’s hard to believe, and I had to contemplate those words a second time: Every fifth household in the world’s richest country cannot entirely feed itself.

Here in the alleged land of welfare we are heading in the same direction, even if we still have some distance to go before we reach the food stamp-level. But there is a debate about increasing child poverty here. The cynics, including the government, ridicule the very concept, saying that it is just a relative measure, thus irrelevant. Still, we have never in modern times had a development in that bearing.

If this is a pattern, we can expect future economic crisis to affect ordinary people deeper and deeper. And if there isn’t a radical change in the whole economic structure in our countries, new and more severe crisis are bound to appear. The important question is what to do about it. And there are answers. We just have to go to Chomsky on the net to find inspiration.

2011-04-05 Tuesday
Sweden as a model for welfare states is rapidly deconstructed under the conservative party’s supremacy in the government. One of the things that was done in this purpose was to tighten the provisions for sickness benefits, which were to be cut off after a fixed period of time. After that period sick people were forced to search for jobs, all kinds of jobs regardless of their education. If they “insisted” on being sick they weren’t allowed back into the insurance system until after a considerable qualifying period.

The absurdity became publicly clear after an article in the leading newspaper by a number of oncologists. They wrote that even patients dying of cancer had to report to the state employment office to look for work. This aroused public horror, and the government hastily produced some amendments to the law, with exceptions for the very seriously ill.

But there were many remaining and grim constraints which the government has refused to relieve. The pressure sick people are subjected to, together with economic problems caused by the new rules, have detrimental effect on their already bad health.

And this very day the Swedish archbishop has paid an official visit to the minister in charge of the social insurances, to report the burdens sick people suffer under the new regulations, and to point out the seriousness of the problem. He told the minister that all his bishops had urged him to take action since they had seen a sharp increase in the number of people seeking the church for advice and relief with regard to their health, severe economic situation and other problems.

This is not Sweden as we knew it. People my age had never ever thought that we, with regard to political mentality, could regress back to the medieval ages in this country. The situation had normally made the public here furious, but the government now feels safe enough to take the situation with ease. “We will present a proposition on the issue during the parliament's spring session”, the minister says, somewhat irritated.

There are heartbreaking reasons to follow this question closely.

2011-04-04 Monday
On the 30th of March two dead workers were found in the basement of Unit 4 of the Fukushima plant. They had physical injuries indicating some mechanical accident. One speculation (mine) could be that it happened during the actual earth quake.

These two men are the first confirmed victims of the Fukushima accident, as far as I'm aware. Or rather the Fukushima disaster, as it's called here. Chances are that there will be no further casualties. Even with a few more serious injuries we have been witnessing a very moderate disaster indeed.

The real catastrophe is going on in places where the tsunami hit communities and killed nearly thirty thousand people. There the search for bodies of missing persons is still going on. Evacuated people live under harsh conditions, many of them mourning family members and relatives.

These really terrible circumstances facing the stoic Japanese have been close to neglected by media here, certainly in comparison with the uproar at the news desks caused by the invented radiation risks. It's a depressing experience of a media taking no responsibilities at all for the fear and anger they have caused on totally false grounds. With the stupid excuse that something really big always could have occurred.

Probably we can soon leave the whole nuclear issue behind. The interest in Fukushima from media here is declining fast when the sensational material for making up reports is continuously diluted, like Iodine-131 in the sea water.

2011-04-03 Sunday
In Miami, Florida, the sun is shining right now with a temperature of 33o C. At the same time it's dark outside in Sweden and just above zero degrees. How I know? Well, the final in the tennis tournament over there is under way; Djokovic and Nadal taking one set each so far with great tennis from both players. It's somewhat distracting when you try to write...
But today I just wanted to report that my newspaper is cooling down on the Fukushima issue. They even present real facts over two pages, informing about radiation in a moderate and sensible way. All about the natural sources of radiation and the marginal effect nuclear power on average has in this respect.

This follows a familiar pattern. First there is this unlimited outrage over the horrendous threats facing the human species by nuclear radiation, or whatever the issue is for the moment. This keeps going on till the audience is exhausted and somewhat bored. Then comes the afterthought when “someone” is criticized for spreading such exaggerated fears.

It’s such a ridiculous spectacle that you are tempted to feel sorry for the media, instead of being furious, which is your instinctive reaction.

In Miami it’s tie break in the third set right now. Have to sit this out………..Djokovic won!!!

2011-04-02 Saturday
Today's IAEA briefing on the Fukushima accident confirms that the situation remains very serious. This refers to the situation within the plant itself. Nothing new has emerged that in a physical way affects the health and safety of the population.

Much work is now being done to transfer water from the turbine buildings in unit 1, 2 and 3 to a safe tank. A pit housing cables in unit 2 is filled with radioactive water which is leaking directly to the sea through a crack in the wall, 20 cm in length. A plan to patch the crack with concrete is underway.

Fresh water is still injected into the reactor pressure vessels to cool the cores. Small temperature decreases are continuously recorded. Depositions of Iodine-131 and Cesium-137 have been confirmed in 7 and 9 prefectures, respectively, with no alarming dose rates.

An important circumstance that certainly isn’t a turn on for the media is the radiation doses received by the workers in the plant. Of the entire workforce engaged so far only 21 have received doses exceeding 100 mSv. No worker has received a dose above 250 mSv, which is the dose limit for emergency workers.

In other words, all those who consistently refer to the accident in Fukushima as a “catastrophe” must still wait for the first man or woman to be killed, or even seriously injured, by radiation, and they will most probably have to wait indefinitely. And while all interest is focused on the nuclear plant, the confirmed deaths from the tsunami itself are increasing day by day, at most noticed in the margin by media here. That’s indeed a catastrophical misjudgment by the media!

2011-04-01 Friday
Our newspapers have sparsely referred to IAEA, the United Nations’ body for supervising nuclear power internationally. The reason seems to be that IAEA doesn’t provide material suitable for the chock treatment media is so keen to give their listeners and viewers. Instead IAEA checks reports from the Japanese authorities and the plant managers, have radiation measured throughout the country and releases a daily status report.

Mostly these daily reports have established that the situation within the plant is serious but reasonably stable, and that measurements mostly show low and harmless levels of radiation. Media here have not been void of insinuations that IAEA tries to embellish the picture in cahoots with the local authorities. If not embellish, at least suppress or silence inconvenient facts.

So, at last, an IAEA-observation hit the headlines in our main paper. In the report of March 30th there was one single line saying that measurements in the village Iitate showed radiation exceeding IAEA norms, leading to recommendations for evacuation of the residents. (The Japanese authorities, though, estimated that evacuation wasn’t necessary.) This was the very line media had waited for from IAEA. The rest of the report was filled with the usual, uninteresting stuff about progressing cooling operations, falling temperatures, and lack of radiation throughout the country, nothing of that fit for printing in descent newspapers.

Is it really a fact that we have the media we deserve? Allow me to protest that! Our media act as they do because they have an intentional agenda.

2011-03-31 Thursday
Correction: Dr. Busby is a Visiting Professor at the University of Ulster. Still he mostly publicizes his work privately, thus avoiding the peer review that’s required when you intend to publish your texts in recognized scientific journals. His view on low level radiation risks is namely controversial, to say the least, and he consequently relies for his career mostly on different green organizations, which nurture themselves on radiation conspiracies.

Still Busby is interviewed both here and there about Fukushima, even by BBC. The underlying mechanism is interesting. Media folks, who really don’t know much about science, pretend to know even less, from which starting point they can motivate that “different opinions” must be heard. And here the representatives for the “unorthodox” enter the scene, including the crackpots.

Media obviously spend enormous resources to cover the Fukushima accident (much less is spent on the real catastrophe for the Japanese society and the real victims of the tsunami). There must be an army of production teams, at least the size of a regiment, from media around the world.

Now, imagine that just a fraction of those resources were spent on gathering some real knowledge. It would require that a few of the brightest journalists and reporters sat down for a few hours with a handful of their countries' most merited scientists in the scopes concerned,  such as reactor technology, radiation biology and radio physics, to name some relevant fields. If media then really made use of the knowledge extracted from such conversations, the reports would be of a totally different and probably very informative kind.

But that’s not what media is for. The purpose and aim of media is to create a maximum of sensation and excitement. That’s selling! If the downside then is that common people (for false reasons) are upset, scared and depressed, it’s a price worth paying. The cynics always think that a price paid by others is worth paying.

2011-03-30 Wednesday
It’s remarkable how nuclear radiation can elicit the most wonderful exaggerations in all directions. A certain George Monbiot, an environmentalist writing for The Guardian, has stirred up emotions by proclaiming his conversion on the nuclear power issue. He notes that Japan has suffered a gigantic tsunami of the once-in-a-millennium kind, and horrible consequences in the area near the coast, with probably some 30 000 people killed, and whole cities totally destroyed.

Fully exposed to the devastating effect of the tsunami was a nuclear plant. An older plant with partly outdated technology, not built to cope with a 10 meter high wave. In spite of the worst possible odds the consequences when it comes to emission of radioactive material seems not to be very alarming, so far.

Monbiot’s argument is thus that nuclear power has proven its capacity to withstand the most extreme conditions possible, without fulfilling the old doomsday predictions which are so widely embraced. So nuclear power should be used to counter the much more dangerous and immediate risk that fossil fuel carries, he maintains.

To answer Monbiot, a Dr. Christopher Busby has been mobilized. He claims that he has done research in the field (though not achieved the competence of a professor, obviously) and has specialized in perceptions which happens to be found in a small and hypercritical sector of the research community.

Busby claims a much higher rate of cancer after Chernobyl than for instance the United Nations’ expert committee has done. Such claims are very appropriate since it’s impossible to detect cancer rates of that scale. They simply are buried under the much larger cancer frequencies from ordinary causes. More inappropriate for Busby & Co is that the UN experts draw conclusions from all experience of ionizing radiation on humans, and that knowledge doesn’t make the Busby-type reasoning very plausible.

We certainly haven’t seen more than the end of the beginning when it comes to nuke debates. They who preach doomsday will not give up in front of such trivia as facts.

2011-03-29 Tuesday
While conservative USA has a socialist in Congress, socialist Sweden now has a prominent Tea Party member, or at least a true supporter, among the former editors in chief for the main paper Dagens Nyheter. His name is Hans Bergström and he still writes a column in his old paper, where he demonstrates his steady starboard yaw.

The fact that Bergström, now a US citizen, voted for Tea Party candidates in the last mid-term election was probably in itself a big surprise for his friends here, since he after all is an old liberal (in the European meaning of the word). But that he used his column in DN to more or less brag about it was such a breach of etiquette that people let the incident die in silence, probably out of pity. The Tea Party is too much populism even for the most conservative here.

Thinking of Bergström, there was once a liberal politician, Per Ahlmark, a former deputy prime minister, who also drifted away out in the blue (the color of the conservatives here) and finally defined himself out of the community through more and more extreme views. The last and probably final book he got published years ago elaborated over the fact that democracies never go to war against each other. Apart from that fact being no mystery, he managed to overlook that the overwhelming number of wars the last 50 years, and by far the most deadly, were started by his favorite country USA, the leading democracy in the world.

If Bernie Sanders were a Swede he would have had a lot to do, also here.

2011-03-28 Monday
Have anybody heard anything about the five or six workers at the Fukushima plant who was declared dead after the hydrogen explosions? That is, the media declared them dead. The company, on its website, only reported a few injured workers but no deaths. It was obviously taken as self-evident by western journalists that the company's officials were capable of bluntly lying. The reports about the deaths was repeated without hesitation and as head news a number of days, but then suddenly disappeared from the pages and TV-news.

The very thought that the officials could have been prepared to lie, given that every such lie was deemed to be revealed and to bring the liar into a deeply embarrassing position, is perhaps significant for western journalists with their
bullying and hereditary imperialistic state of mind. That’s harsh words, but they can take it. They were most probably the liars in this case, and that they must hear.

2011-03-27 Sunday

Even our leading center-right newspaper today celebrated Håkan Juholt for his speech yesterday, at least for the enthusiasm it aroused among the delegates at the congress. On the editorial page, on the other hand, Juholt was described as someone going backwards into the future, by relying too much on the old, basic social democracy, abandoned a long time ago, according to the editor.

In a way Juholt sounded a bit like the independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, although Sanders is the more outspoken of the two. Another difference between them is that Sanders is marginalized in the Congress, while Juholt is the leader of the largest political party in Sweden.

By the way, I wonder how many Americans know the existence of Bernie Sanders. For me, who follows Swedish media quit well, he was completely unknown until a friend told me about a YouTube clip with a powerful speech by him.

As for DN’s main editor I think he’s going to be refuted by history when it comes to which direction the Social Democrats under Juholt’s leadership is heading. All the neoliberal devices applied to the reality here have created so much opposition that the ground is prepared for a reconstruction of some of the lost qualities in the Swedish society. (This is of course a prediction, and we just have to wait and see.)

6 Saturday
Håkan Juholt was indeed elected chairman of the Social Democrats,
unanimously as expected. His main speech today in front of the party congress was probably a great surprise for most listeners. There stood a man who sounded like the real Social democrats did, before the neoliberal hoax covered all enlightened politics with a wet blanket. He talked about the need for solidarity in a society where greed and heartlessness had been spreading for years.

Child poverty, which has become a problem here, must be fought, he said, together with youth unemployment, now reaching record levels. Through privatization of schools and medical facilities tax payers' money now pay for large profits transferred by private companies to tax havens.

The market for electricity (among many others), which was deregulated some years ago, have resulted in much higher costs for consumers and factories, and in really huge profits for electricity companies. This and other deformities in the free market must be dealt with, said Juholt. Safe existence is a prerequisite for freedom, solidarity is everybody’s gain and equality profitable for the society, he also said.

This was really a day when social democracy was reborn in Sweden. Now it just remains to be seen how these impressive words will be transubstantiated into action. As I said after the press conference two weeks ago: it’s interesting times coming!

2011-03-25 Friday
On my Swedish page I declare today that I will let go of the whole nuclear issue, at least in what concerns the accident at Fukushima. I sketched what I believe will roughly be situation in six months from now. On the whole most thing will be back to normal, and planning for the deconstruction of the power plant will be under way. And a few other things...

On this page I made a kind of prediction already on march 17th, so I will not repeat myself. I rest my case (a phrase picked up from the many US films on television here).

Tomorrow Håkan Juholt will make his important speech at the Social Democrats' extraordinary congress, after being elected chairman of the party. My Postcard then will probably be entirely about that speech, and the reactions to it from the usual pundits.

2011-03-24 Thursday
My web log indicates that this diagram has been found by browsers both here and there, from New Zeeland to Romania. So, I should perhaps be more specific about some details. The underlying numbers are from this source, and were presented at a conference on accidents and risks held in Davos, Switzerland in 2008.

Only accidents with more than five deaths are considered, so the death toll from accidents in nuclear plants is limited to Chernobyl and the directly related deaths which were 31. Thus nuclear power is invisible in the scale of the diagram. Some 30 people have died in sequelae from radiation injuries, including thyroid cancer, in the following years, up till now.

In accidents related to coal and hydropower China have suffered by far the most. The number of victims claimed outside of China is for coal 8 400 and for hydropower 4 100. Nevertheless it's a death toll far higher than that for nuclear power. Just for the comparatively insignificant energy source LPG (Liquefied petroleum gas), and only in EU countries, the death toll is ten times higher than that for nuclear power worldwide.

2011-03-23 Wednesday
Spring is coming with 5oC but also with hard wind, reminding of autumn. It feels significant for the debate, in a way.

The fine-tuned souls continue their esoteric writings about nuclear energy, of which they obviously doesn't have a clue as far as facts are concerned, but instead have the most magnificent feelings with which they fill an endless number of articles. They already sense the end of civilization and are daily reinforced in that prospect by reports of contaminated water, milk and salad, smoke from reactors, pictures of evacuated people etcetera.

In half a year, when all this is over (unless there is a new earthquake) and it turns out that not a single person was injured by radiation, let alone dead, the debate will just fade off and no one will have to admit they where wrong. Hopefully we will then have had a period when focus have been on the really tormented: the children who lost their parents, people who lost their homes and everything else, in short all those who really suffered from this enormous natural disaster. They are those who need the worlds help.

Then some years will elapse and a new incident will occur. All the fine-tuned souls will wake up again, and the whole procedure will restart from the very beginning...

2011-03-22 Tuesday
The Social Democrats’ internal affairs are for some odd reason everyone’s business in this country, especially their political opponents’, it seems. An op-ed in DN today is critical of, among other things, the sacking of the right-leaning Tomas Östros, up till now the party's spokesman on economic issues. He is a man from the north who grew up in politics, but now has spent too many years in Stockholm to be aware of the real feelings in the party nationwide.

Östros made a blunder some time ago when he said something like: “the motto ‘it must pay off to be working’ has always been at the heart of Social Democracy”. The problem was that the old conservative party years ago made exactly this motto notorious in their efforts to achieve tax cuts for those with the highest incomes. (A well-known columnist made fun of them with the slogan: “it must pay off to be rich”.)

As one of the top leaders in the party during two devastating election defeats, Östros naturally had to bear responsibility. Still the conservatives here shed crocodile tears over the “brutal dismissal” of him. But one can rather say that he showed bad judgment for not leaving voluntarily after the election last September.

The reason is this: As late as in 2008 the opposition had the largest majority in the polls that has ever been recorded here. They had 40 percent more voters than the government. People were furious about the government’s savage cuts in allowances for sick and unemployed, together with mindless privatizations where common assets like schools, preschools and medical facilities more or less where handed over to individuals for private profit, sometimes in random as it seemed.

For Social Democrats it would have been the easiest possible task to win the election in 2010; this was really about their core issues. But the Stockholm-based leadership ignored the whole situation. They were busy aligning to the mainstream, medium line in politics, which meant a turn to the right, and didn’t pick up any of the issues that had made the overwhelming majority of Swedes fuming. Mona Sahlin and Tomas Östros were certainly the two most responsible for this terrible misjudgment, and both naturally had to leave.

2011-03-21 Monday
A reshuffling in the most central body of the Social Democrats, the executive committee (Verkställande utskottet) is underway, and new key people will be presented as nominees before the extraordinary party congress this Friday. Leakages suggest that some individuals who were too much burdened by the latest election defeat will be asked to step down, a very rare procedure in the party since those positions are elected by an ordinary congress and usually keep their seats the full term.

Besides being connected with defeat, two of those who are forced to step down belong to the right wing of the party. This group included the retiring chairman, Mona Sahlin, and was also to a high degree Stockholm based. The party's core voters on the other hand, are people in the rest of the country where industry and raw materials dominates the economy. A cultural clash was apparent here, and the traditional Social Democrats blamed the defeat on a too lenient attitude by the party leaders towards the government's pronounced right-wing politics.

A turn to the left is on its way in the Social Democrats, also emphasized by appointing Håkan Juholt as the nominee for the chairmanship. He is considered to be a traditional, slightly left-oriented party member. My guess is that this will reconstitute the party and regain voters, who in polls, with a large majority, have demonstrated their resentment towards the many anti-social steps taken by the current government. There are interesting showdowns to look forward to this spring!

2011-03-20 Sunday
This gloomy day I suffer somewhat from the consequences of a party yesterday, which in some way was connected with a coming 70th birthday. But I'm up and going, and have some research to do for next weeks Postcards. By till then!

2011-03-19 Saturday
Today the nuclear doomsday seems to be postponed, at least for the moment. Instead the paper is filled with news about Libya, and the decision on a no-fly zone there. For once we seem to have a military intervention in sight which can be justified on grounds of real contribution to democracy and freedom. (If western countries had shown the same determination when Saddam Hussein was in the midst of slaughtering his own people it had perhaps also been justified. Instead many western governments then supported Saddam in all respect.)
The popular uprisings in northern Africa are significant in many ways. They show that even the most inveterate dictatorships can be overthrown in spite of the harshest repression. This is an extremely positive sign and a role-model for many oppressed people around the world.
My suspicion is that the financial meltdown is one of the factors which sowed this seed. Also in many richer countries the not so well off have suffered from the crisis and the following depression. Perhaps we stand on the threshold to a new era where popular actions will be of greater importance. Remains to be seen.

2011-03-18 Friday
After writing an agitated post in my Swedish section today about the anti-nuclear revelation journalists and others obviously experience, I feel somewhat drained of mental power. This unbelievable doomsday journalism would be wearing down ones trust in humanity, if it weren't for the conviction that there anyhow are lots of rational people out there. It's just that they for the moment have no say in media, in the hurricane of feelings that have blown away all kinds of common sense.

Well, it's Friday, and there will be a beer with the dinner, by the way a beer from USA: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a real pearl among beers in general and among pale ales specifically!


2011-03-17 Thursday
Yesterday one could sense that media here had realized a new threat in Fukushima. The cooling of the first reactors possibly affected by partial core meltdowns seemed to be successful. The temperature fell and so did radiation levels. All the horrors about the unparalleled accident never before seen on earth, and possibly the conclusion of Japanese culture, threatened to end up in... nothing at all. But, yippee, when the need is greatest, help is most close (a Swedish proverb in bad translation)!

Today the reporters were back on the air with renewed and exuberant indignation. A storage basin with used fuel was loosing its cooling water due to evaporation, and there were problems with water bombing from helicopters. Instead the rescue workers tried to reach the basin with water from a hose, but apparently didn't succeed. "They don't seem to know what they are doing" a reporter said in a contemptuous tone (as if he knew better himself). Anyway, the day is made for the media folks. There is still hope for at least a fragment of a disaster.

And in such a case, after half a century and more than 10 000 reactor years with western type nuclear plants, without any deaths from radiation, the anti-nukes really hope they can finally say: "didn't we tell you?".

PS. What the management of the operations probably is doing is first of all to protect the workers from getting more than the allowed and harmless dose of radiation. But if there was an imminent danger of catastrophic consequences, I certainly think we can trust them to find ways to solve the problems. In weeks or months I will be back on the issue saying: "didn't I tell you?".

2011-03-16 Wednesday
Media people here have fallen in trance before the nuclear events in Fukushima, the explosions and leakages. Whenever one turns on the radio there is an exited man, or an even more exited woman, preaching about the holocaust waiting around the corner.

This is a topic containing everything media can wish for; above all it is the perfect subject for creating sensation, indignation and anxiety . We have that wonderful phenomenon called nuclear radiation with its perfect combination of danger and invisibility. And the possibility it creates of printing photos, covering half the page, of men in white coats and mouth protections measuring radiation on a little girls.

Hour after hour on the radio, page after page in the newspapers, the whole horrific history of nuclear power; Harrisburg, Chernobyl, everything. Reporters once again travel to Ukraine to interview people who think they got sick from radiation 25 years after the accident. No media person does the obvious thing: read the UNSCEAR 2000-report which gives the complete story, including the truth. Maybe they suspect that such a prank would destroy the whole story (in which case they are correct).

Occasionally professors specialized in different nuclear and radiation subjects are interviewed. They say, usually calm and patient, that the emissions from the Fukushima plant are very low, and consequently cannot possibly harm the public. At that point they are frequently interrupted, and the program returns to the main furrow, namely to create maximum fear. It’s a depressing performance.

The license for the whole show is that there always is a possibility for a general catastrophe. It’s a bit like people who don’t dare to become atheists, because there always is a possibility that there is a God. And we don't want to be wrong about such things, do we?

2011-03-15 Tuesday
Bradley Manning is reported to have a tough time in prison, quite thoroughly harassed, as one perhaps would expect as a proper treatment for a traitor. If he had been a Chinese soldier in a Beijing jail, would we then have considered him a political prisoner? Tough question.

The man, to whom he delivered the secret documents, Julian Assange, is still in England waiting for a higher court to decide on his appeal. I made a remark to a DN journalist about the total absence of interest in the man’s security, which is odd when you consider that journalists normally hold freedom of expression as an almost holy human right.

In the USA prominent people have cried out for the immediate execution of Assange. Everybody expects him to be delivered from England to Sweden, and after that the probability for a strong demand from USA for an extradition is high. Still there is no readiness in the press here about how to prevent an extradition, which if carried trough means with some certainty a severe punishment for Assange.

The remark to the journalist I mentioned was induced by some scornful writings by her about Assange. She has perhaps rethought things, because her latest op-ed was about the newest scandal in the prosecutor’s team. It turns out that one of the police women in the interrogation group was a close friend of one of the accusing women. She had also written about the case in a blog. This was bad according to DN, but still not a word on how to protect Assange and the freedom of expression in the prospect of a demand from USA.