It’s more than uncertainty, it’s chaos

Actually, the list of possible Republican presidential candidates is even longer than I indicated previously. The total number is eighteen — 18!  But the ones I left out are even more of “come-on, why are you running?”

So, why waste our time?  Still, here they are, for the record:

Former New York governor George Pataki — out of the blue; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson — no political experience; former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — Fox News host too long; former business executive Carly Fiorina — forced out at Hewlett Packard; real estate developer Donald Trump — mad man; former senator Rick Santorum — already ran and lost; former UN ambassador John Bolton — foreign policy hardliner; former Texas governor Rick Perry — already ran and failed spectacularly; and, finally, Senator Marco Rubio, Florida, squeezed out by Jeb Bush, also from Florida.

This is more than Republican “uncertainty,” it’s actually chaos.

Democratic inevitability vs. Republican uncertainty

Inevitability on one side, uncertainty on the other.

I am talking about the American presidential election campaign and about the Democrats, on the one side, and the Republicans, on the other, jockeying for positions as that race, which in America never really ends, is heating up.

I had hoped to avoid this topic, at least for a while longer and maybe until the beginning of next year, while glancing longingly at other democracies in West Europe and Canada with their three-week or even month-long election campaigns, but…here we go!

The inevitability among the Democrats and the likelihood of Hillary Clinton running was underscored today in a Politico article by Mike Allen. She really is preparing and will likely announce her candidacy in April.  Does she have any opponents? Vermont’s grumpy, but charming, independent, democratic socialist U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders, Maryland’s former governor Martin  O’Malley, who could not even get his own lieutenant governor elected last year,  or Virginia’s quirky former US senator Jim Webb are all sort of — come on!

So the Hillary Clinton juggernaut keeps rolling on, and, unless something extraordinary happens, the only interesting discussion is who will be her running mate?

And as to the Republicans, there are a lot of names and a lot of — come ons! Who do these people think they are? First of all, Mitt Romney. Enough said. And then Sarah Palin, who said the other day that she was seriously interested in running.  And then the Canadian-born Texan Ted Cruz, the libertarian Rand Paul, the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. And then there are the governors: Chris Christie from New Jersey, Scott Walker from Wisconsin , and John Kasich from Ohio, plus one former governor, Jeb Bush from Florida.

To learn more about Jeb Bush,  I recommend the recent article by Alec MacGillis in The New Yorker called “Testing Time.”  It’s not a flattering profile, on the contrary, some of the things he stands for a pretty scary, but I believe he has a real chance to capture the Republican party’s nomination.

And so, as much as I hate to admit it, it looks like a battle next November between two dynasties, the Clintons and the Bushes, two legendary juggernauts fighting for their place in history. It’s a sad verdict on American politics that there really are no new and exciting names at this time who have a real chance to win, but that is the way it is.

So enjoy, or despair!

Nordic pragmatism as a recipe for success

The Nordic countries, those up there at the top of Europe often called Scandinavia — Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway — came out on top of all the countries in the world in the Fragile States Index for 2014 published the other day.

Finland came out at the very top, the only country described as “very sustainable,” with Sweden, Denmark and Norway as the top three “sustainable” countries of the world, with Iceland, the fifth Nordic, in eighth place, and with the United States on twentieth place, part of a lower group of “stable” nations.

What do these five nations in northern Europe have in common? They are democracies with clean governments and a highly educated population. They value stability, common sense and results.

Maybe this can explain, at least in part, the unusual “December Accord” — even for Scandinavia — last Saturday, when six of the eight political parties in the Swedish parliament came together and cancelled a snap election scheduled for March and instead worked out a deal under which the minority government of Social Democrats and Greens, only three months old, will be able to govern, albeit on the basis of a budget hammered out by the four opposition parties.

The accord has not been well received by a number of different reasons, both on the left and on the right. But it did avoid a dreaded snap election, a seldom used ingredient in Swedish politics — 1958 was the last time that happened. The next Parliamentary election will now be the ordinary election in 2018.

The “December Accord” also served to continue to hold the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats on the far right at arms length, not including them in any deal, keeping them out of any government, and preventing them from dictating the composition and policies of the Swedish government.

As so many times before in the modern era, the Swedish politicians came together in a serious political crisis, “came to their senses,” as the leading newspaper Dagens Nyheter put it the other day. It was pragmatism for the good of the country, to achieve stability, get results, avoid chaos.  Here is the latest main editorial for those who can read Swedish!

Maybe this overarching pragmatism is the secret behind the success of those small Nordic countries, and a recipe for success for others? Maybe there is even something that those fighting forces in the U.S. Congress can learn from all this? Maybe, as I said.

We are reminded again: Torture is torture. Period.

The U.S. Senate’s torture report is out, and that was a good day for America. But it underlined  once again that America “lost its way”during those dark years after 9/11, as Eric Lichtau wrote in his book Bush’s Law – The Remaking of American Justice.

“This is not how Americans should behave. Ever,” says today’s main editorial in the Washington Post.

So, to talk about whether these “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked or not is completely irrelevant.

“Torture is wrong, whether or not it has ever ‘worked,'”  the Post adds. Exactly.

“Only fools” discuss whether illegal actions “work,” wrote Slate Magazine’s legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick some time ago. Exactly, again.

But, as Lithwick also wrote, they “got away with it:” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and his staff member Jose Rodriguez, who destroyed video tapes of the torture sessions.

Now, what? Probably nothing, unfortunately.

Congress, controlled by the Republicans after the new year, will not touch this. And President Obama, who started out so well and in his first weeks as president in 2009 shut down CIA’s secret prisons, prohibited the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and he promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, also said no to all investigations, no prosecutions and no indictments, no truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa after apartheid, no to a commission report like the one after 9/11. Nothing.

Was he wishing it would all go away? It hasn’t. The prison in Guantanamo Bay is still open and now the torture debate is back with a vengeance.

It was a “horrible decision” by Obama to close the books on this chapter of of our history, writes the New York Times today, describing the whole report as a “portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” And, it “raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these crimes.”

Exactly, yet again.

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.