The “historic vacuum” for the Republicans makes the guessing game for 2016 even harder

My Swedish journalist colleague Staffan Heimerson wrote in his column in Aftonbladet the other day about Swedish predictions regarding the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Who will be the two parties’ candidates? On the Republican side, the Swedes most often mentioned  Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, but also Rand Paul, while Hillary Clinton was pretty much a given as the Democratic candidate.

My American journalist colleague Carl Cannon, Washington bureau chief of RealClearPolitics, explained this confusion very nicely in his column yesterday. He writes about a “historic vacuum” for the Republicans, which  “has prompted stirrings among a veritable roster of colorful, ambitious—and unlikely—White House aspirants,” and continues:

“The cast of characters includes a popular conservative neurosurgeon with the habit of making outlandish political pronouncements; a New Jersey governor whose main personality trait is in-your-face aggression; a freshman senator from Texas loathed by his peers and whose idea of high jinks is shutting down the government; a Kentucky libertarian who barely tolerates the idea of a standing army; a Baptist preacher and Fox News host better known for his weight-loss book than his stint as governor of Arkansas; and a former a Florida governor who hasn’t held office in eight years and would (a) be forgotten by now or (b) have been president already—if he wasn’t the son and younger brother of two previous presidents.”

Nicely put about Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Jeb Bush, although he excluded Marco Rubio. But then he added an even “less likely” name, “almost as unlikely as Ben Carson,” Mitt Romney, the man who ran from the wrong state. He needs to remedy this mistake, if he wants to run again – “Mitt Romney for Mayor.”

If he does, it would certainly add to the Republican confusion.

From “Vision of Peace” to “Spoonbridge and Cherry” on the Green Line in the Twin Cities

VisionofPeace2During my latest visit to Minnesota, I jumped on the Green Line, the splendid, new street car line in the Twin Cities, that ties together Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

It cost me 75 cents, a real bargain, for an almost hour-long trip from behind the splendid Saint Paul train depot to Target Field, Minneapolis baseball stadium. At both ends, as I continued my search for Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy, I found two remarkable pieces of art, both made by Swedish immigrants, which have become iconic symbols of each city.

In Saint Paul’s City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse’s Memorial Hall stands Carl Milles’s “Vision of Peace.” Unveiled in 1936, it drew on a Native American ceremony that Milles, who was born in Sweden but spent most of his adult life in America before he returned and, in 1955, died in Sweden, had once witnessed in Oklahoma. Milles originally called it the “Indian God of Peace,” but it was renamed “Vision of Peace” at a special ceremony in 1994 involving the major Minnesota Native American tribes. It’s made of white Mexican onyx, is 36 feet tall, and weighs 60 tons. It fills the hall and is truly magnificent.Green Line

At the other end of the line, after an enjoyable, albeit a bit slow, ride past the State Capitol and along eclectic University Boulevard with auto dealers, supermarkets, the excellent Midway Used Bookstore, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, the Finn/Sisu store for cross country skis, and everything else you might want to find, the street car meanders through the University of Minnesota campus, over the Mississippi River and past the quickly rising Minnesota Vikings football stadium, into downtown Minneapolis and its “Spoonbridge and Cherry” by Claes Oldenburg and his Dutch born wife  Coosje van Bruggen. The sculpture is located in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden next to the Walker Art Center and it is just as fun to see in winter as in summer.

SpoonandCherryOldenburg came to America as a young boy and grew up in Chicago, where his father was Sweden’s consul general. He and his wife, who died in 2009, created the “Spoonbridge and Cherry” in the mid-1980s.

Like Milles’s “Vision of Peace” in Saint Paul, it dominates the surroundings as it lies there right in the middle of the Sculpture Garden with the Minneapolis skyline in the distance. And like with Milles, Oldenburg’s work of art has become a icon in the Twin Cities and it is, of course, yet another example of Minnesota’s Scandinavian connection.

Steadily lower voter turnout is the sad fact in all democracies

“The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 years!”

That was the headline in New York Times’ main editorial today, as the paper lamented the fact that only 36.3 percent of the American voters bothered to vote in the midterm election on November 4.

In no state did the voter turnout exceed 60 percent, with Maine coming closest at 59.3 percent, followed by Wisconsin 56.9, Alaska 55.3, Colorado, 53, Oregon 52, Minnesota 51.3, and Iowa 50.6 percent.

Indiana had the lowest turnout with only 28 percent, with New York, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah all also under 30 percent.

“Lower voter turnout since World War II is a trend in all democracies,” says Sören Holmberg, election expert and political science professor at the University in Gothenburg, Sweden. “It seems that democratic decision making no longer is as important for people as it used to be in our globalized world.”

Voter turnout in countries like Sweden, 83.3 percent in the parliamentary election in September this year, is still much higher than in the United States, but turnout in Sweden used to be even higher, over 90 percent in the 1970s and 1980s. Holmberg points to a steadily lower voter turnout in the elections to the European Parliament, only an average of 42.5 percent earlier this year, to England where turnout for parliamentary elections has gone down from over 80 percent after World War II to slightly over 60 percent, to France also from around 80 percent after the war to below 60 percent today.

Even in Australia and Belgium, where voting is obligatory, has voter turnout decreased, although turnout is still around 90 percent.

The United States has special problems, like gerrymandering. Uncompetitive districts lowers voter turnout, and incumbents are re-elected at an average rate of over 90 percent, says Holmberg.

Lower voter turnout favors the Republicans. So instead of making voting as easy as possible for everyone, as I think should be the goal of every democracy, the Republicans have continued to try to make it more difficult. That is an especially sad fact in the American democracy.

Few bright spots for the Democrats as America voted Republican

Well, that was really depressing.

Only in Minnesota, and a few other bright spots around the country, did the Democrats win, or even put up a good fight in yesterday’s Republican landslide. Even in Democratic strongholds, like Massachusetts and Maryland, the voters elected new Republican governors. Southern Democratic Senators trying to get reelected failed, like Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. Only Mark Warner in Virginia held on, barely…

The next US Senate will have a comfortable Republican majority, and the least sympathetic of all American politicians, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will be the new majority leader. He was the one — remember ? – who set as his primary goal at the start of the first Obama Administration to make sure that America’s first African American president would only serve one term. Well, Obama was reelected in 2012 and McConnell remained minority leader. Now, McConnell plus House Speaker John Boehner in charge of an even larger Republican majority in the House of Representatives, will have to work with President Obama if anything is to get done in the new Congress.

Don’t hold your breath! The Republican majorities in Congress contain more conservatives and more Tea party sympathizers, who now see even less reason to work with the President. If they turn cooperative, it will be a first after years of Republican obstruction, including a government shutdown, for which, apparently, and remarkably, the American voters have rewarded them while at the same time — and completely illogically — bitterly complaining about the gridlock in Washington.

They give Congress embarrassingly low approval ratings — even lower than the President — and then vote them back in power, stronger than before. Figure that one out!

Actually, and once again, the American voters have shown how negative they are towards the government, not only this government but government in general. They want a weak government and with yesterday’s outcome they have assured themselves of that.

I mentioned Minnesota in the beginning, where I have recently spent quite a bit of time, and although Minnesota’s voters reelected all the top Democratic candidates, Governor Mark Dayton, Senator Al Franken, the State Auditor, the Attorney General, as well as all five Democratic members of the US Congress, and elected a new Democratic Secretary of State, the voters turned their back on the Democratic Farmer Labor Party’s (DFL) candidates for the State House of Representatives. The Democrats’ majority of 73 to 61 for the last two years will switch to a solid Republican majority, 72 to 62,  in the next House, while the Democrats keep their majority in the Senate, which is not up for reelection until 2016.

So, also in Minnesota, the voters chose change, to end, as they put it, the “single-party DFL rule.” It’s the fourth time in ten years that the majority in the House has changed hands. And, just like in Washington, the ability to govern, to get results, to move the country forward, has been weakened. In that sense, the voters in Minnesota were no different than the voters in the rest of America.

The outcome does not bode well for America in the next two years.

In Minnesota, the Democrats hope to continue to lead

Just back from another visit to Minnesota in pursuit of its Scandinavian legacy. As the weather suddenly turned wintry after a glorious fall, the election campaign reached its crescendo, or lack of crescendo. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there is drama also in Minnesota but not the drama of other states, where depressing poll numbers tell the story of a Democratic party in serious trouble, so serious that most polls predict a Republican majority in the new US Senate and increased majority in the US House of Representatives.DFL bus campaign

In Minnesota, the Democratic party, here called the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL), also has a tough go. But Governor Mark Dayton and Senator Al Franken are still solidly ahead in the polls and their re-election seems assured. But it’s far from guaranteed in these bizarre mid-term elections where a robust economy, lower unemployment and non-existing inflation seem not to matter, and where a Republican-led, do-nothing House of Representatives looks to increase its majority and set to do even more, of nothing…

The Saint Paul Pioneer-Press, representing the readers in one of America’s most liberal cities, exemplified the bizarre political climate when endorsed Dayton’s and Franken’s largely unknown and untested Republican opponents as well as equally untested young businessman Stewart Mills, who is trying to unseat DFL-veteran Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s northern 8th District.

Talk about a paper representing its readers….

Even Minneapolis’ paper, the Star Tribune, representing the readers in an almost equally liberal city, came out in support of Mills, in spite of, as the excellent website  MinnPost pointed out the other day, Mills and the paper differ on a series of issues, from gun control to Obamacare, taxes, and more.

Bizarre…

So, although ahead in the polls, the DFL takes little for granted. All the leading DFL candidates, plus Minnesota’s other Democratic Senator, Amy Klobuchar, and Saint Paul mayor Chris Coleman, gathered the other day in front of the Capitol for the last frenetic Get Out the Vote Statewide Bus Tour, which ends Monday night with the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Midnight Madness Event. And it’s not only about Dayton and Franken, it’s about re-electing Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan to the U.S. House of Representatives, re-electing the Attorney General and the State Auditor, and electing a new DFL:er as Secretary of State. But, most of all, it’s about retaining the Democratic majority of 73 – 61 in the State House, which, together with the DFL-led Senate and Governor Dayton, has led the state since 2012.

Their joint record is impressive, and they are running hard on it, but will it be enough in this election where do-nothing and even shutting down the government, instead of good work, seems to be rewarded? Indeed, the times are bizarre…

 

“Welcome to Sweden:” Oj, oj, oj…that was really embarrassing!

“Oj, oj, oj,” as the Swedes say…oh, boy! That was embarrassing. No, it was more than embarrassing, it was really, really bad.

I am talking about the new TV-series “Welcome to Sweden” that premiered last night on NBC. I knew nothing about it beforehand, and I didn’t know that it had been produced by Swedish television channel TV4, and then bought by NBC.  Shame on TV4 for taking the easy way out and playing on all the clichés about Sweden and Swedes: stupid accents, drunkenness and drinking songs, naked men in the sauna.

It was all supposed to be funny, and intelligently joking about nations and people and their traditions is certainly fair game, and can be funny. But “Welcome to Sweden” was not funny, not at all. I suppose it could have been if the acting had been good. But it was atrocious, and it was especially sad to see splendid actress Lena Olin lending herself to this superficial spectacle,  which, on top of everything, was brutally interrupted time and time again by commercials during its 30 minutes.

I haven’t read any reviews by the Swedish media when it premiered there in March. Maybe they liked it, and maybe I have missed something? No, come to think of it, I don’t think I have. I just hope that the coming segments will prove to be better than this disastrous start.

Somalis showed their strength at DFL Convention in Minneapolis

The “new Americans” spoke today in Minnesota Democratic politics, and although the Somali American challenger Mohamud Noor did not win the endorsement of the delegates to House District 60B in Minneapolis, he prevented veteran liberal lawmaker, 77-year-old Phyllis Kahn, from winning, thereby forcing a primary runoff in August.DFlNoorSupporters

Kahn, who has represented the district in the State Legislature for 42 years, failed in five rounds of voting to capture the necessary 60 percent of the vote for the endorsement. She came close in the first round – 58.1 percent against Noor’s 41.5 percent. But in the end, in the fifth round, Khan’s support was 56.3 percent against Noor’s 43.3 percent.

Her failure is a victory for what Noor in his speech to the delegates before the vote, called “the new Americans,” like himself, who had fled their bleeding home country and settled in Minnesota in larger numbers than anywhere else in the United States. A victory, he said before the vote, would demonstrate that the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) in Minnesota is “serious about inclusion.” He did not quite make it, but he has another chance to win, in August.

DFLNoorSpeakingNoor, a recent new member of the Minneapolis school board, said that he and his family had “achieved the American dream,” and he stressed the importance of education and pre-kindergarten for all. He was ready to fight for everyone in the district, which includes Somali immigrants in the classic Scandinavian immigrant neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, students from the University of Minnesota, and scores of progressive activists.

Should Noor win the DFL primary in August, he is practically guaranteed a victory in November in this solidly liberal House district. And if so, he will be the first Somali American in the State Legislature and the highest elected Somali American official in Minnesota. Today, Abdi Warsame, who was elected to the Minneapolis city council last November with overwhelming support from the Somali residents of Cedar –Riverside, holds that title. Warsame also had the support of Phyllis Kahn and today he backed her, splitting the Somali vote in the packed auditorium in DeLaSalle High School on Nicollet Island in the middle of the Mississippi River, just underneath the towers in downtown Minneapolis.

Today’s convention took all day, with breaks for lunch and prayer. The delegates showed remarkable stamina and few left between the five rounds of voting. Still, the 277 total votes cast are only a fraction of the eligible voters in District 60B. The August primary will all be about turnout, and it would be unwise to count out a veteran like Phyllis Kahn.

For the Somali immigrant community seeking political clout just like other immigrant groups have sought before them, it is yet another big challenge.