Monday, July 30, 2007

Thanks for scaring me to death, Ingmar Bergman

The great Ingmar Bergman passed away in his bed this morning. Sweden, as well as the world, is paying respect to the greatest filmmaker of the 20th century (at least according to Woody Allen, and he should know).

To me, Ingmar Bergman will always be synonymous with the Christmas of 1984. I was 10 years old and my family spent the holidays with my grandmother and grandfather on a small island on the west coast of Sweden, Bohus Malmön. It was dark, cold, and windy and the big thing on TV (only two channels provided by the state back then) was Bergman’s masterpiece ”Fanny and Alexander” [IMDB here].

The movie (shown in a couple of parts, as I remember it) totally changed Christmas that year and I remember spending loads of time thinking about death and what I guess we can call materialism. The children – Fanny and Alexander – were forced to move to a priest and could not bring any of their toys or other possessions. A scary thought to a boy obsessed with a lot of belongings connected to the football team IFK Göteborg, such as the autographs of all players in the squad that won the league the same year.

How can I remember all this? I have a scary memory (ask my family) and in retrospect, that Christmas made me realize how much ”culture” (movies, plays, books, etc) can affect me. Thanks, Ingmar Bergman, that Christmas scared me and sparked an interest that would provoke me to watch films on a very regular basis. And in 1987 I was again scared to death by a movie as dad sneaked us into the cinema so that we could see ”Full Metal Jacket” [a decision he regretted some two hours later; to see a guy blowing his head off with a rifle, sitting on a toilet in a military camp, is not ideal for a 13 year old]. But that is another story.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The CNN/YouTube Debates

I spent two hours watching the CNN/YouTube Debates the other night (you know, the debate when the Democratic presidential hopefuls answered questions submitted by “ordinary” voters through YouTube. The Republican debate will be held on September 17). If you are interested in politics I recommend you to see it, I was positively surprised. Here are my main conclusions.

1. I liked the format with the personal questions posed through YouTube. Yes, I know CNN edited the process by selecting the questions, but when “real” people ask about loved ones who died in Iraq, or family members who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, you get another level of reality into the debate. The possibilities that Internet and new technology bring continues to change the political landscape.

2. However, it was somewhat difficult to see the person who posed the question on the YouTube-clip, at least if you downloaded the debate from CNN’s website. And some additional information about the background of the people posing the questions would have been appropriate.

3. The debate was too long. 90 minutes would have been enough.

4. From a political point of view Hillary Clinton showed that she is by far the most competent contender in the race; I think she won the debate clearly. Joe Biden is impressive when he speaks about foreign policy; as soon as he opens his mouth you can hear that he knows what he is talking about. If he wasn’t from such a Democratic state [Delaware] he would be a perfect running mate. Morevoer, Barack Obama is a fantastic candidate, but in this debate I think Hillary Clinton was much stronger (also from a rhetorical point of view).

5. From a strategic point of view, one of my early predictions still holds: Barack Obama is one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest assets, since he is taking a lot of attention from other serious male contenders (John Edwards, notably). As it looks now, Hillary Clinton has a clear lead in the race. But Al Gore might still jump in. Barack Obama is a star candidate who has raised a lot of money. John Edwards is running strong in Iowa and New Hampshire.

If you like American Politics, you will have a wonderful time all the way till November 2008.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Turkish elections: All good?

The reports in media about the Turkish elections, but also comments by Western European leaders, have been very mainstream. Most commentators seem to agree that the Islamic-rooted AKP has implemented important reforms domestically, while pursuing a pro-EU foreign policy. Pretty good for an Islamic-rooted party, Westerns seem to say, and thus their election victory is welcomed.

One thing I would like to know/read more about is how and why the AKP can stay so EU-positive when major EU-countries (read: CDU-lead Germany and Gaullist-led France) are so negative vis-à-vis Turkey?

From a social democratic standpoint it is important to note that Morgan Johansson, Minister of Health in the Swedish government 2002-2006, has called for the exclusion of the party CHP from the Socialist International. Morgan is the Swedish Social Democratic member in the PES-committee monitoring Turkey’s negotiations for EU-membership. His main argument is the way in which the CHP blocked the election of Abdullah Gül as new President of Turkey.

I don’t know enough about the matter, but Morgan is always very knowledgable when it comes to these questions. I am open for any arguments or reading suggestions.

* * *

Don’t miss that my good friend Claes Nordmark is blogging like crazy from Turkey [in Swedish].


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Friends and family (becoming an uncle)

Just have to share some pure joy with y’all: Yesterday my sister Anna gave birth to a wonderful boy, William Bo Axel, and I am even more happy and excited than I thought possible. William is gorgeous and both parents are feeling fine (even though my wonderful sister is a little bit tired, of course).

And as Tony Soprano would say: Friends are great, but the only thing you can really trust in life is family. I am a very proud and almost pathetic uncle today.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Week of politics – a political (s)ummary

The week of politics in Almedalen [Wikipedia in English here] is over and I now have two wonderful weeks of vacation (that will be spent in Sweden due to a veeery pregnant sister). But first: Some conclusions from Almedalen for y’all who follow Swedish politics through this blog.

Mona Sahlin held a very good speech, focusing on young people and youth issues, but quite a few people seem to have missed the true importance of her speech. This is my take on it.

Since she became party leader in March, the popularity of both her and the party has been increasing steadily. But at some time, the curve has to start flattening, so she needed yet another boost in Almedalen. Her problem is that she cannot really present new political positions, since we are bottom-up political party where members decide (i.e. she will never have a mandate to change the party’s policies only with a small gang of advisers, as Fredrik Reinfeldt did). But at the same time she needed to sound fresh and find a topic that could introduce all the things she wants to represent. A difficult equation.

The solution: A speech about young people, and I think that was a very smart move. To ignore a discussion about children and young people growing up in poverty is much more difficult than ignoring discussion about class and poverty in general. And when you start discussing issues such as a second chance in school, affordable housing, or good working conditions when you are employed for the first time, you will per definition get a good and needed policy discussion about left and right in politics.

During the speech, two members of Social Democratic Youth were allowed onto the stage, and they both held short speeches. During the congress in March, a song sampling a speech by Olof Palme was played during Mona Sahlin’s speech. By allowing two SSU-members to speak, Mona Sahlin showed once again the she is willing to break with rigid traditions and do politics the way she wants to. Moreover, young people always represent the future.

Thus: A speech about young people became the natural entry to a speech about all things that Mona Sahlin wants to stand for: Future, renewal, new traditions in the party where the light must not be on the party leader all the time, a modern center-left party.

The solution to the difficult equation she was facing when entering the stage was in my view smarter than most people have given her credit for. When she had delivered the speech, she had shouldered the prestigious social democratic tradition connected to the week of politics in Almedalen. A tradition initiated by her idol (Olof Palme), continued by her mentor (Ingvar Carlsson), and – for the summer of 2003 – associated with her close friend (and then favorite to become new party leader) Anna Lindh.

* * *

Some additional social democratic observations:

The social democratic party had an economic seminar just as always, this time about taxes and tax reform. The seminar was hosted by Pär Nuder (previous Minister of Finance) and during the seminar it was implied that the tax cuts for low earning workers, introduced by Reinfeldt’s government, ought to be accepted by social democrats (I agree). And an idea about changing and limiting the taxes municipalities collect was floated, and all of a sudden social democrats started to disagree. That is great; we need a battle of new ideas in opposition.

* * *

After the defeat in the elections of 2006, the social democratic party will change and update its policies in a broad process of consultation with party members and other groups in society. A new party platform will eventually be decided during a congress in 2009, and the party will have loads of meeting in this broad process before then. In Almedalen, during the week of politics, the first of these consultation processes was presented.

The topic is school policies, from kindergarten to complementary education for adults, and I hope that the debate will be open, vivid, and include people outside the party, but also others than the usual crowd already crazy about school issues (i.e. average party members as well as experts inside and outside the party). Now, the social democratic party is inviting people to discuss the policy the party should stand for, and remember that if you don’t participate you don’t have the right to complain.

* * *

Last, we have the government. They did not act as an “alliance” in Almedalen, which probably was a big mistake. What we saw was four political parties with bad poll numbers. And the best seminar during the week, organized by Fokus, Synovate Temo and Södertörns Högskola, stated two things. One the hand, the Reinfeldt government has a better situation on paper compared with the right-wing coalition governments of 1976-1982 and 1991-1994 (the economy is better, the parties are more united, the parliamentary situation is more stable).

On the other hand, their situation in the polls is really really bad; center-left winds are blowing in Sweden. The economy might have had its peak, and the Social Democratic Party is always great at adapting and bouncing back.

So, all is good? Not at all, it is still early and we will have three more “Weeks of politics” in Almedalen before the next general election in 2010.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

”Week of politics" - a summary in Swedish

Here is a summary of most of the stuff I have written about ”Almedalsveckan”. It is all in Swedish but I will post some thoughts in English here tomorrow. Just need to sleep and think about anything but politics first.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More about Almedalen

New stuff on again, for example my column about Mona Sahlin’s speech [Swedish].

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Various photos from Almedalen

Göran Persson during the seminar with BIL Sweden.

Krister Nyman and Nisha Besara right before Mona’s speech

The little ”hill” besides the stage where journalists hang out, right before Mona’s speech

The social democratic gang called ”Katapult”, politics as street theater.

Torbjörn Nilsson at the bar Vinäger with a very cool umbrella.

Åsa Petersen and Johan.

The young gang at Aftonbladet; Jocke Jakobsson and Åsa Petersen.

Anders and your blogger (also at Vinäger)


Monday, July 09, 2007

Just to let you know...

... loads of news, columns etc from Almedalen at [in Swedish].

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Here it is: ”The week of politics”

So it has begun yet again, ”The week of politics” on the beautiful but today rainy island of Gotland. I took the ferry here early this morning and this is the deal during the week:
  • For blog posts, articles, columns, op eds etc about Almedalen in Swedish, stick to
As I have said before, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the week this time. But now as I am here, it feels OK, and I met some people I have not seen in Stockholm for ages already on the ferry.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Another wife steps forward

Don’t miss the latest political news from Argentina; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the wife of the present president Néstor Kirchner, will be the ruling Peronist party’s candidate in the presidential election (October 28th). Yeah, you remember the history, Juan and Eva Perón, etc etc. Full article in The Economist here.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

It’s Fourth of July and a perfect day to be confused.

On the one hand, I started the day by listening to the song “Independence Day” by Bruce Springsteen (YouTube here) and ended up thinking of the Fourth of July in 2002, when I sat on The Mall in Washington DC and discussed the values of the Declaration of Independence versus terrorism with some friends. As y’all know, I admire the US of A in many ways and if you understand Swedish, you have to listen to this hilarious radio-program about two guys driving through the US in their early twenties (Filip Hammar & Fredrik Wikingsson som sommarpratare, lyssna här, hur kul som helst).

On the other hand, we have had an administration (George W. Bush et al) for six and a half years; an administration that has disrespected the values of the Declaration of Independence, notably through the ”war on terror”, the infamous war in Iraq, but also nitty gritty dirty GOP-politics, like the recent pardoning of the felon Lewis ”Scooter” Libby. For a summary of how Bush betrayed what I think America stands for, watch this YouTube-clip: ”Abba explains the War”. [Thanks, Lane]

In short, a big hurray for what the US of A ought to stand for, including HBO, Sopranos, The West Wing, Springsteen, Clinton, Al Gore, JFK, RFK and MLK, Ani DiFranco etc etc. And a major ”nay” to US imperialism and the current administration; remember to always stay out of the Bushes.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Al Gore and The Sopranos

I have written before that I would like to see Al Gore running for the Democratic nomination. He was right on the big issues (environment, balanced and competitive economy, welfare) already 15-20 years ago; he can provide the experienced leadership Americans are asking for; and therefore he will win (I am not that sure that Hillary Clinton would win, and she will get the nomination if Gore won’t run, even if Obama is raising a lot of money).

I have also written about The Sopranos, and what happens when my political world collides with that brilliant show.

Conclusion: Have you heard the story about Al Gore and the last episode of The Sopranos? From The Progress Report:
Al Gore is a ”die‑hard” Sopranos fan, but was going to have to miss last month's season finale because he was scheduled to be on a plane to Istanbul. So Gore called Brad Grey, the chairman of Paramount, and asked for an advance copy.

After originally refusing, Grey eventually ”had a Halliburton‑made steel case, containing a copy of the episode, delivered to the tarmac where Mr. Gore's plane sat in Chicago. The case was locked with a code. ... Mr. Gore could not open it until the plane was in the air, when he was instructed to call Mr. Grey's office for the numeric code.”
Enough said, Al Gore ought to be re-elected.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Swedish ”week of politics” coming up

One of the weirdest things in Swedish politics starts on Sunday: The week when almost all politicians, journalists, consultants etc etc gather on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea (this week is known as ”Almedalsveckan”).

The pretext is the 462 seminars that will be held, but the most important thing to do is to hang around and meet other ”important people”. Even a guy like me have mixed feelings this year, it is a lot of fun but also… too much.

Anyway, on Monday (when Social Democratic Party leader Mona Sahlin speaks at 7 PM) we will distribute a somewhat special edition of Aktuellt i Politiken, and I just compiled a little overview of social democratic leaning seminars and other important events. It is by no means complete but you can check it out here.

And by the way: None of the companies and organizations that have sent ”personal” invitations and information to my home address (a.k.a my litte flat in central Stockholm) made it to the list... But it is somewhat impressive that they try.

* * *

While completing the list, I listened to stuff on YouTube (surprise). And don’t miss the clips from a fantastic Damien Rice concert at Four Seasons. Songs like Delicate; I remember; The blower’s daughter; Cold water; Volcano; and Lonely soldier in wonderful versions. And my favorite; Cannonball. ”It is still a little bit of your taste in my mouth...”.

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