Saturday, April 29, 2006

Catching up after a busy week

Because of developments at work (see below, and thanks for all your nice comments), last week was very busy. For example, I have not told you about a very good concert I went to in Stockholm. As expected, Tift Merrit was right up my alley: southern, folky country rock with more attitude and swing than I expected. And her voice is incredible live. [Review in Swedish here].

You can hear some songs on her webpage and on Lost Highway Records (a virtual goldmine with loads of good tunes online). Don’t miss the song “Good hearted man”.

I bought Tift’s new live album “Home is loud” after the concert and we spoke briefly about my favorite junk food restaurant in her home state of North Carolina: Waffle House.

The concert was held at the rock club Debaser in Stockholm, and I was glad to hear that Debaser will start running the larger club Mondo as well. To listen to country rock live and discuss Waffle House is sheer life quality.

Friday, April 28, 2006

I just got a new job!

Just got tell you before you hear it from someone else: I got a new job today, so from the beginning of August I will be editor in chief of the weekly newspapers Aktuellt i Politiken and Stockholms Tidningen. Needless to say, I am happy, excited and full of ideas. I am very much looking forward to this, and to develop and modernize the social democratic weekly newspaper is an enormous challenge that I will try to tackle with hard work, a lot of respect, and with help from my co-workers and many many others.

You can read more about these changes and my ambitions in an article here [in Swedish].

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It was about time, wasn't it?

Feels like it has been some time since I wrote a longer article about the Swedish Moderate/Conservative party. Anyway, did that toady, read more here [in Swedish].

This is what it will look like, roughly

The fantastic website reports from Bruce Springsteen’s and his new band’s first rehearsal show:
There was a political edge throughout the night, subtle yet unmistakable, particularly in the three-pack of "Devils & Dust," "Mrs. McGrath" (dedicated to Cindy Sheehan), and "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" […] Springsteen took the time to set up many of tonight's numbers, offering some history to introduce songs like "Old Dan Tucker" and "Eyes on the Prize." In all, the band performed eleven songs from the album plus "Buffalo Gals" from the flipside; and six Bruce-penned songs from his catalog: "Johnny 99," "Adam Raised a Cain," "Devils & Dust," "Open All Night," "My City of Ruins," and "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)."
In all, 20 songs were played and the show lasted just over two hours. I have written about the up-coming show in Stockholm and new album before (here and here), and the more I think of it, I really hope he will play “Tougher than the rest”. A little bit cheesy, I know, but I loved that guitar solo long before I ever heard of Pete Seeger or Wilco.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Congrats, Hungary (the tide is turning)

As we all know, the center-left won the election in Italy. And today we got more good elections news from another European country with a red, white and green flag: the socialists in Hungary did it, they won re-election and Ferenc Gyurcsany can continue as Prime Minister. I say congrats to my friend Anita, and other Hungarian comrades, who have been working hard to make this happen.

As a matter of fact, the election victories in Italy and Hungary mean that center-left governments are in majority in the EU-countries again. The PES-website has done the counting: Currently there are Socialist, Social Democratic and Labour Prime Ministers in seven EU countries (UK, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Hungary, Czech Republic and Lithuania) with a further five countries with PES member parties in coalition Governments (Germany, Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg and Cyprus). Soon we will add Italy to the first category. Not bad!

And when it comes to Sweden, a new serious and rather important poll gives the Social Democratic party, the Greens and the Left party 47,8 percent. The right-wing alliance gets 48,4 percent, but only last month they were five percentage points ahead. Clearly, the rocking economy and the improved labor market expalin why we are catching up, together with the recent disagreements in the right-wing alliance.

Last and not least, Liverpool beat Chelsea in the FA-cup semi, while I was at my cousin Jesper's fantastic wedding. Quite a good weekend…

Friday, April 21, 2006

Do a Nepal, Silvio!

Watching the news and it struck me that Silvio Berlusconi should do what the King of Nepal just did… Time to give up, time to give democracy a chance, Silvio!

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Local elections are coming up in Britain (Thursday 4th of May) and I just learnt that Labour is running an interesting and intelligent campaign.

As I have written about before, the Tories now have a new party leader – David Cameron. In a rather short period of time he has taken a lot of different political positions, normally depending on the audience he is talking to. He is also trying to establish himself as the new, fresh alternative. Does it sound familiar to Swedish voters as well?

In the campaign, David Cameron is portrayed as a chameleon, and the song used in the TV-ad is – of course – Boy George’s ”Karma Chameleon”. You can watch the campaign site and the TV-ad here.

The campaign would probably be too tough for a Swedish audience, but my thoughts wandered to Sweden’s “new Moderates/Conservatives”. Changing colors all the time, but still true blue when it comes to real politics.

Already in 2004
I argued that the Swedish Social Democratic party should not use a flip-flop campaign against Reinfeldt, but rather point out that their policy proposals are as right-wing as ever. But the Labour campaign is a funny and intelligent way to use flip-flip in order to illustrate that the Tories haven’t changed.

After all, Labour still knows how to do it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Don’t miss this

If you a) support the congestion charges we now have in Stockholm, and b) think that only people in Stockholm city (and not in the whole region) should vote in the referendum that will decide whether we will keep the charges, you must read this article (PC Jersild in Dagens Nyheter).

The article will give you another good argument in all forthcoming discussions about these charges that we most naturally should keep. My own favorite arguments? It is good for the environment, and it makes Stockholm a little bit more like London….

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

First issue of "Dagens Stockholm"!

If you live in the greater Stockholm area, and if you travel by public transport today, I hope you will get a copy of the free newspaper Metro. The reason? This Tuesday Metro also includes a four-page newspaper called Dagens Stockholm ("Stockholm Today") that your present author/blogger is working with.

Dagens Stockholm will be published every Tuesday and Thursday for four weeks (April-May), and again twice a week for four weeks in August/September. The Social democratic party finances the newspaper, but we who are working with it have been given a free mandate to form the newspaper as we wish. Our basic idea is to write about politics in Stockholm from a bottom-up perspective, highlighting things that normally are not covered in mainstream media.

In our first issue we are writing about, for example, a reform in Stockholm that has established new clinics that you can visit if you have smaller medical problems. For example, if you feel sick or if you fell on your bike, you can visit one of these smaller clinics close to your home, instead of always going to the major hospitals.

Jonas Morian has already (of course) written about the first issue of Dagens Stockholm (here). If you have any suggestions or ideas, please send me an e-mail (or write a comment below)!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bruce’s new album sounds good!

The new Bruce Springsteen album, “We shall overcome: The Seeger Sessions”, will be released on the April 25. But already now you can watch Bruce and the band playing one of the songs, “John Henry”, in the studio (just click here).

I just listened to the song a few times, and I am very enthusiastic. I really like American folk music, and to see and hear Bruce Springsteen dig deeper into this tradition makes me very thrilled. I really liked the almost disorganized version of “John Henry” with all the violins, the banjo, etc.

And to hear Bruce finish of the song saying “good”, followed by his very characteristic laughter, makes me long for the concert in Stockholm on the 21st of May. The question is which of his old songs he will play with this large, folky band? Any wild guesses?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Yes, we won, but what happens now?

As y’all know by now, we won in both chambers, but Berlusconi has not yet admitted that he lost. La Repubblica’s homepage is reporting everything that is happening, minute-by-minute. This will probably go on for quite a few days, and as you have read, Italy (i.e. the parliament and representatives of the regions) must also elect a new President later in May.

Yesterday I listened to a very sharp election analysis presented by Romano Prodi’s older brother, Vittorio Prodi. He commented on two things that is discussed right now:

1. The election of a new President? Vittorio Prodi thought that extending the present president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi’s mandate would be the best solution. Ciampi is very popular and could represent continuity in the present situation, said Vittorio Prodi.
2. A German-style “grand coalition”? No, this will not happen, was Vittorio Prodi’s simple message.

My own opinion is that the Prodi and the center-left must not back down, unless major election fraud is proven (which I hold very unlikely). Remember that George W. Bush won a very tight election (possibly involving election fraud) and then went on to govern without excusing himself.

Prodi should do the same, but he must try to become the Prime Minister of all Italians, also those who did not vote for him. Bush quickly forgot that he promised to do this, but I heard Prodi saying it at the last election rally at the Piazza del Popolo. And my hopes in Prodi are so much higher.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

...and what a morning

After some of hours of sleep I will now travel to Bologna and a meeting with Romano Prodi's brother, and then I will fly back to Stockholm. I don't know when I will be able to update this blog again, but as you know we have won the lower house, and with the new election system we will get a solid majority there.

Right now Berlusconi is leading by one vote in the senate, so the vote of Italians living abroad will decide. The senate is still up in the air. More later!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Oh, what a night...

By now, I guess y'all know that we don't know how this election is going… Giving my weird interest in politics I am now sitting in the hotel lobby with some friends (and fellow travelers of the Arena Group), watching Italian television and reading web pages and making phone calls to Italian comrades. Right now it looks like the result in the Lazio-region will decide the Senato, which is now slightly leaning to Berlusconi. But this will change if we pick up Lazio, which is very uncertain right now.

The Camera [the lower house], on the other hand, seems to be leaning Prodi again (50,5 vs. 48,9 right now). But this can change again. And then we have the vote of the Italians living abroad… According to one Italian friend I just talked to, the turnout in this group seems to be high, and it is likely to be leaning Berlusconi.

Conclusion: we don’t know, and there is already talk about new coalitions, another general election, etc etc. But since I am such an optimist I will leave you with this: we will win Lazio and thus the Senato, and the squeeze through with a majority in the Camera as well. I admit this is my wishes, but I admit I am a confident dreamer.

It's looking good, knock on wood

One of the reasons that explains why I love politics is the people you meet and the places you end up at. Right now I am at an election watch with the Democratici di Sinistras local branch outside Reggio Emilia. The old men here built their own house for social functions back in the 1960 (for you who know your Italian history: this was not a social democratic party back then).

In the main building we are watching the results coming in from the elections. But in a newly built house in the back these fantastic old men (there are mostly elderly men here so far) have constructed their own hunting cabin.

So here I am, at their computer, looking at walls not covered with political posters (as in the main building), but with poster of fish, birds, etc. It is a fantastic feeling.

And the feeling in the other building might become fantastic soon, but nothing is taken for granted yet. Things are looking pretty good so far; the exit polls pointed in the right direction (54-50 for Prodi's Unione, 49-45 for Berlusconi's CdL). And a new poll from Ipr says 52,2 to 47,1 and the first results in Lazio and Piemonte are looking good. But things seems to become closer as I write this. So I will run right back in and have some more of the wine, cheese, cakes, sausages, etc etc that our comrades here have prepared for us.

So, it is too soon to say that Prodi has won, but this might be a great night for the European center-left. And I don't mind being a part of it in a hunting cabin just outside Reggio Emilia.

Italy votes and should say basta!

It’s Monday morning. I am sitting in a hotel lobby in Reggio Emilia and the polls just re-opened. They will close by 3 PM, then we will get the exit polls, and then we might get a final indication saying how this is going.

The more I hear and learn about Berlusconi’s leadership of this country, the more I understand why so many people are desperate to get rid of him. Sure, the growth rate has been terrible during his five years in power, averaging 0,8 percent. But this is about freedom of speech, the functioning of a modern, western democracy. It is also about a country getting more and more and divided; between north and south, as always, but also within cities and regions. “I will govern for the whole of Italy, also for those who vote for other parties”, Romano Prodi said during his last election rally in Rome. That’s a big difference compared to Berlusconi who calls his opponents you know what.

Guess I should make some predictions as well. I think Prodi’s Union will win by 3,8 percent in the vote for the lower house, and with slightly less for the senate. This will make the Ulivo, and especially Democratici di Sinistra, the election winners. But I also think that la Rosa nel Pugna and Alleanza Nazionale will emerge stronger than expected. Lega Nord and Forza Italia will be the clear losers, but also the Greens and the Di Pietro-list since they will be beaten by la Rosa nel Pugna. But Rosa nel Pugna will of course be beaten by Rifondazione Comunista and the Margherita. Personally I hope that the Margherita will get at least 10 percent since I hope they will merge with DS in the long term, and this will only happen if the Margaherita feel that they can merge from a position of strength.

OK, I am really shooting from the hip here, so don’t take these predictions too seriously. And the most important thing is that the voters will say basta Berlusconi, so that the whole of Italy can get a new start. Time to leave the lobby and watch this happen.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Are we winning after all?

According to the rumors you hear, Prodi’s Union is ahead in the late polls that you are not allowed to publish. This information is accessible even in Swedish newspapers, but from what I have heard about the current situation it is looking pretty good (i.e. the center-left is 3,5-5 points ahead). This has also been confirmed on Swedish TV.

However, now all Italians who want to get rid of Berlusconi – especially those who have been enjoying the nice weather all day – must go to the polling stations. The polls close at 10 PM tonight and at 3 PM tomorrow and from what I understand we might get rid of Berlusconi soon and after all. I hope. But it is impossible to know for sure. So keep on voting, all you Italians of the center-left!

Italy votes...

[Up-dated with more pictures] After a day of no campaigning yesterday, Italy starts voting today (Sunday), and voting goes on until 3 PM on Monday. I think this will be a close thriller, with Prodi’s Union emerging with a small but undisputable majority.

Polling is not allowed during the last days of the campaign, but one analysis – supposedly accurate and stemming from inside the campaign – says that Berlusconi’s desperate behavior the last couple of day (“we will beat the Communists just like in 1948”, etc etc) has scared some people into his Freedom-alliance. But just as many has finally concluded that he really is crazy, and have therefore gone from Berlusconi to Prodi, or from undecided to Prodi.

Conclusion: Prodi should still have the lead. But I spoke to one journalist who had been interviewing people downtown Rome all day, and she often got the answer: “Berlusconi is over the top now, so I will vote for Fini [leader of the ex-fascist party, second biggest party in Berlusconi’s alliance] instead". Scary, since Rome is a pretty red city with Veltroni as Mayor. But I still think we will make it, and soon I will jump on the train to the even more red votes in Reggio-Emilia.

As the Italians decide, here are some elections posters with the main political alternatives to the left of center. And the ex-communists...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

In Rome: Prodi will win, I think…

Since Thursday I am in Rome, following the Italian elections on a fantastic trip arranged by the Arena Group. Yesterday we had a fantastic row of meetings at the Swedish Embassy, where we met with journalists, politicians, trade unionists, etc. Later we went to the Union’s election finale in central Rome. Impressions so far, except for the nice weather and wonderful food.

1. I still think Prodi will win, for the same reasons I have listed earlier. And Berlusconi sure is desperate now, but the problem is that people who have not been turned of by his behavior during the last five years might not be that affected by another stupid comment or weird press conference (“We are going to beat the communists, just as we did in 1948”, Berlusconi is saying in today’s paper). If the center-left would lose, the election analysis will be easy: Prodi was too boring, The Union still too divided, and Berlusconi is a man who have taken politics to a new populist media-savvy level. But we should win this.

2. This election campaign has been mostly fought in the media, where Berlusconi dictates the rules. When we spoke to a representative from the DS, he admitted hands down that they did not manage to make the election a political one. It is still a media referendum about Berlusconi, and bread and butter politics has been playing the second violin throughout the campaign.

3. Italy, as lovely and disparate as it is, is often a laboratory where you can detect coming trends. It is evident that politics here has reached a new stage, a populist stage where politics ended up being subordinated to the media. Most naturally, I think this a very creepy and worrying development. And after a session about the role of religion and Church, one realizes that there are quite a few unpleasant tendencies in Italian politics. And how good is the European center-left when it comes to handling the new media landscape, long-term opinion building, and moral issues. Just look at the US of A…

But I was at least somewhat encouraged when I learnt from a representative from the trade union CGIL that the whole idea with a stronger Union and l’Ulivo started with a long letter from the trade union movement to Prodi. There is still hope, and I will never stop longing for a stronger and more unified Italian center-left. But one thing that was evident yesterday was that even the representative from DS was worried about how the cooperation would work after Election Day, should the center-left win.

And the center-left must win. As the impressive Italian MP Tana de Zulueta said to us yesterday; “you would never forgive us otherwise”.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Goodbye, GOP titan Tom DeLay

In Swedish media, the abrupt resignation of Tom DeLay has not generated any longer articles, in spite of the fact that DeLay has been an important part of the Republican Congressional leadership for more than a decade. The New Dispatch makes the following analysis.
More even than his mentor, Newt Gingrich, DeLay was the architect of a House of Representatives dedicated to the entrenchment of a Republican majority, through means ranging from total exclusion of Democrats from any role in the legislative process, to eager enlistment of GOP ideological and corporate constituencies as active policymakers, to a coldly systematic effort to reward private campaign contributions with lucrative public favors.

Moreover, DeLay was the living link between the drive for brutal efficient Republican institutional power and the more extreme elements of the conservative movement, and especially the Cultural Right. One of the most unsavory aspects of his legacy is the GOP habit of combining regular abuses of power with the rhetoric of self-righteousness and even self-pitying claims of victimization. [...]

Without DeLay, the GOP congressional leadership is now in the final stages of moral decay, pursuing his blueprint for entrenched power even as its architect flees the House and even flees his district to make it possible to remove his name from the ballot. It will take far more than Tom DeLay's departure to reform the Washington culture he once deplored and then epitomized. And Democrats have an unparalleled opportunity and responsibility to make the case for real change.
That last sentence is crucial, and let's hope the US Democrats will start carrying the mantel of reform again -- in this and in other political areas.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bruce is coming to town

According to the first reports I heard, Bruce Springsteen (with the Seeger Sessions Band) was scheduled to play in Stockholm on the 20th of May. Fortunately, that was wrong.

On the 20th of May a very good friend of mine has a birthday party. And on the same day, two other friends (both Kurds) have a huge party celebrating their marriage. Naturally, I would have spent that day with my friend and then dancing at the Kurdish wedding party - however missing the concert with Bruce and the Seeger Sessions Band.

Now it turns out that Bruce plays in Oslo on the 20th of May, and in my hometown on the 21st. Perfect. The record "We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions", will be released on the 24th of April.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Good indeed, but not fantastic

Yesterday one of my old musical heroes, Morrissey, gave a concert in Stockholm. As always during a Moz-concert, it is very fascinating just to walk around and watch the people who come to his concerts. If we all would be locked up in that ice-hockey stadium for a year, very few Fred Perry shirts would be sold in Stockholm.

The concert was good, but not fantastic. I liked the band and the quite hard and noisy "wall of sound". I liked how the concert began ("First of the gang to die", really sharp and noisy guitars) and the new single "You have killed me" will stand the test of time. And most naturally: to hear the man himself sing songs like "Girlfriend in a coma", "Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me" -- but also "Irish blood English heart" -- underlines why Morrissey is one of the greatest.

However, the concert was very short, just as the other two times when I have seen him live (Solnahallen and Fryshuset). And I was hoping he would play "Come back to Camden", anything from "Vauxhall and I", and my favorite song with The Smiths: "There is a light that never goes out". None of those wishes came true, but I am not surprised since that is part of the charm with Morrissey. It is not three and a half hours with Bruce, ending up with "Twist and shout". But yesterday there was a gap between the years with The Smiths, and the two latest records (i.e. the whole Morrissey-period from 1988 to 1994 was missing). That was a shame.

Anyway, I am glad I went, and in the crowd loads of fellow journalists could be seen. I wonder what song a conservative columnist listens to before going to a Moz-concert. "Margaret On The Guillotine"?

Why Prodi will win

In one weeks time I will be in Italy, following the Italian elections (voting starts Sunday and ends Monday so we should have the results Monday night). After having listened to two Swedish journalists who have been following Italian politics for decades (Olle Svenning and Anders Ehnmark), I feel quite confident. I did some additional reading as well and I think Prodi will win, due to these reasons:
  • The candidates. After comparing himself to Jesus and claiming that babies were boiled and used as fertilizers in Mao’s China, it is obvious that Berlusconi is crazy. We knew that before, but it is getting worse. On the other hand, Prodi’s character is more of a combination of a professor and a grand father. That’s not perfect, but it is better than being crazy.
  • How Prodi was elected. More than four million activists of the center-left participated in a referendum that elected Prodi as their candidate. No less than 74 percent of the more than four million voted for him, so his mandate is very strong.
  • Prodi’s election alliance (“L'Ulivo"). In 1998 the communist party withdrew their support for Prime Minister Prodi and caused his government's fall. This time around, “L'Ulivo” is broader but also stronger. It includes the old communists (Bertinotti and the Rifondazione Comunista), but also centrists as Antonia Di Pietro and Emma Bonini. Moreover, all parties of “L'Ulivo” have signed up to a very detailed election manifesto (281 pages). Broader and stronger!
  • The Italian economy. The economy is struggling and The Economist recently portrayed Italy as “The real sick man of Europe”. Even big industry is withdrawing their support for Berlusconi, which is never a good sign for an incumbent, right-wing Prime Minister.
  • "A lot of other things". Italian foreign policy has been messed up, close to Bush and full of scandals with Berlusconi (offered a German politician to act in a film about concentrations camps, remember?); Prodi won the first debate and has the momentum in the campaign; the trade union support for “L'Ulivo” (their political programs overlap to a very large extent), etc.
So, these are strong arguments. But Italian politics is always complicated and full of surprises. There is another TV-debate between Berlusconi and Prodi tonight. And remember what happened in the US in 2004: Kerry won the first debate; after that I thought he would beat Bush. Then Bush got 3.5 million votes more than Kerry and turned out to be more in tune with the American people than most people had realized... But I think that many Italians are fed up with Berlusconi and the lousy economic situation. A majority will vote for the professor/grand father, because of the reasons I just listed.

That’s what I think and hope. So, next Monday I am pretty sure I will raise a glass of good wine to Italy’s new Prime Minister.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Yet another election kick-off

I am spending the weekend at yet another election kick-off, this time hosted by the social democrats and blue-collar trade union in Stockholm county and city. I wrote a quick overview of the day that you can read here [in Swedish], but my two main observations are as follows.

1. We are more than 1 200 people here. That’s bigger than most national election kick-offs held by other political parties. The amount of people, the good atmosphere, and Sweden’s rocking economy should worry the Swedish political right.

2. I ran into an old friend from the Lithuanian social democratic party (we had met through Young European Socialists, of course). There are representatives from most social democratic parties in the Nordic and Baltic countries here. I don’t know for sure, but I did not see any neo-liberals and/or conservatives from Lithuania when the Swedish Moderates had their meeting in Jönköping recently...