It’s high time to close Guantanamo Bay

The terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open, in spite of what president Obama has declared and in spite of the many demands to close it.

As recently as last week, President Obama said that he continues to believe that Guantanamo should be closed.

“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive.  It is inefficient.  It hurts us in terms of our international standing.  It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts.  It is a recruitment tool for extremists… And I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people.  And it’s not sustainable.”  

Karen Greenberg, head of the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School, is an expert on the Guantanamo prison. In an interview with me for my book America — Land of Dreams she said that Obama might have succeeded in closing Guantanamo immediately after he won the election in 2008, but he didn’t act fast enough, and he failed. And because Guantanamo is still open, we still have a system of “indefinite detention” and that, for me, she said, is “unacceptable.”

An article by Greenberg in the Washington Post last Sunday, called “Five Myths about Guantanamo Bay,” lays out the situation at Guantanamo today for the remaining 166 prisoners, of whom 100 are hunger-striking. Four of them have been hospitalized and 23 are force-fed.  Read it!

It’s high time to close Guantanamo.


“God fortsättning” in the New Year — that’s doubtful…

In Sweden, my old home country, we used to say “God fortsättning” after the holidays — “good continuation” in the New Year. That’s not an expression you hear in America, which is perhaps as well, particularly in these times of the financial cliff, the debt ceiling, and the political disharmony in Washington.

Yes, the cliff was avoided but at what price? Was it worth it?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently wondered if the deal was a “Pyrrhic victory,” a tactical victory that could pave the way for a major defeat later this year. Yes, the victory was tactical in the sense that the Republicans in Congress for the first time since 1993 voted for a tax increase. But what else? It did nothing to resolve the country’s major economic problems, the debt, budget deficit, unemployment. The settlement contained no new stimulus money to invest in the woefully neglected infrastructure or to create new jobs. Remember, the U.S. still has almost eight percent unemployment. Last Friday’s figure of 155,000 new jobs during December was certainly acceptable, but not more. Many more jobs are needed, every month, to seriously tackle the unemployment crisis.

In the deal, President Obama had to give up on his campaign pledge to raise taxes for everyone earning more than 250,000 dollars per year. Instead, the limit was set at 450,000 dollars, meaning than less than one percent of American tax payers will see their taxes increase. Those are not middle class figures. These are high income earners, who will now be exempted from paying their fair share at the same time as more revenues are needed but when Americans are paying less in income tax than the populations of other developed countries. As Stephan Richter pointed out in The Globalist:

“In all the other countries that come to mind, protecting such levels of income is the sole preserve of conservative parties. In the United States, it is a matter of bipartisan consensus.”

Yes, America IS different from Europe –it’s certainly more conservative. In America, taxes are toxic in a way they don’t seem to be in Europe, maybe because Europeans feel that they get something for their taxes, like universal health care, good public transportation, and affordable education all the way through college?

Washington is also similar to Brussels, if you read The Economist, which called the cliff deal an “abject failure” — “Washington’s pattern of dysfunction is disturbingly similar to the euro zone’s.”

But Europe has also made progress, averted disaster and come together around the euro, as Floyd Norris recently wrote in the New York Times, wondering: “Will the United States follow the European path in 2013? Let’s hope so.”

That’s not likely to happen. With the debt ceiling crisis and the resolution of the automatic spending cuts looming in a couple of months, the Republicans seem primed for revenge after the cliff deal, which could make the cliff deal negotiations come to seem like child’s play.

“Good continuation…” well, the New Year actually doesn’t look that good.

Talking about polls…what has happened to Gallup?

Talking about polling…what has happened to Gallup?

The question is put by Nate Silver on his blog FiveThirtyEight after Gallup’s tracking poll is showing very different numbers than all other polls with Mitt Romney leading big.

While all the other tracking polls show a very even race, today’s Gallup figures show that Romney has increased his lead over Obama from 6 to 7 percentage points.

Under the headline “Gallup vs. the World,” Silver argues that this is not the first time that Gallup differs considerably from the others.

“Its results are deeply inconsistent with the results that other polling firms are showing in the presidential race, and the Gallup poll has a history of performing very poorly when that is the case.”

But that does not mean that Gallup should be ignored:

“You should consider it (Gallup) — but consider it in context. The context is that its most recent results differ substantially from the dozens of other state and national polls about the campaign. It’s much more likely that Gallup is wrong and everyone else is right than the other way around.”

Gallup’s numbers are included in Silver’s forecast which estimates Obama’s chances to win next month at 65.7 percent.

Making sense of the flood of campaign polls…

All of us following the U.S. presidential election campaign have the feeling, I’m sure, to be drowning in opinion polls. Every day, there are new polls, both nationally and state by state, and especially in the ten or so “battle ground states,” where the election will be decided.

And if you have followed my blog about America, you’ve probably also noticed that I keep close tabs on what Nate Silver writes on his political statistics blog in the New York Times called FiveThirtyEight — an excellent source of information during an election campaign where so much is about the polls and dthe importance of how these new, daily measurements are interpreted.

Last night, I went to listen to Professor Simon Jackman, political scientist and political statistician at Stanford University, who was in town to give a lecture.

“Obama wins in a squeaker,” predicted Jackman, but the situation is extremely even — “a game of inches:” 47 percent for Obama, 47 percent for Romney. According to Jackman’s model, Obama leads today with 267 electoral votes to 206 for Romney (270 needed to win). Five states with a total of 65 electoral votes are “toss ups”: Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin, while Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania lean to Obama, and North Carolina to Romney.

This is not a forecast but a compilation of the 517 polls —  “poll averaging” — which Jackman describes in this interesting article in the Huffington Post. This method is necessary to really explore the political situation, and he warned of polls with only 800 or 1000 or 2000 respondents. They don’t tell the correct story.

Jackman also described in his lecture how it is becoming increasingly difficult to produce good and reliable polls. People don’t want participate. They don’t have time. Why should hey spend 15 to 30 minutes on the phone with someone they don’t know, and without getting paid? And he described the problem of reaching young voters, if the survey does not use cell phones and how the Internet is becoming increasingly important to the polls.

Jackman also spoke about political bias in the polling firms. None of them stand out as extra special, but they have their sympathies. Of the major polling firms, Pew is pro-Obama and Rasmussen pro-Romney. Gallup leans towards the Republicans, while the polls from Fox News, surprisingly to me at least, are close to the ideal political neutrality.

Still, Jackman writes, “it would be unreasonable to conclude that the polls are giving us a qualitatively incorrect impression of how the election is shaping up.”

Here is his article on the subject in the Huffington Post.

Fear mongering at its worst in anti-Obama movie

I went to see the much talked about movie “2016: Obama’s America” today, and after watching this ideologically driven, false, alarmist portrait of Barack Obama, I wonder in what world its creator Dinesh D’Souza lives. I don’t recognize it.

D’Souza is called a leading conservative intellectual, and I have no doubt that he is smart, but he is primarily dishonest. Born in the same year as Obama, an immigrant from India, exposed to colonialism under the British, Ivy League graduate, it’s remarkable how differently D’Souza and Obama turned out and I wonder what drove D’Souza to the far right.

You really don’t know Obama, says D’Souza. He is anti-capitalist, socialist, yes, anti-American. The thrust of the movie is to prove D’Souza’s theory that Obama’s dream is not the same as the American dream, and that by 2016, if Obama is re-elected, we will see what Obama’s real goal is — to fulfill his dead Kenyan father’s unfulfilled, Third World, anti-colonial dreams and create a different, a socialist, America. So watch out!

It’s cleverly made, but it’s fear mongering at its worst.

A glorious evening of big time soccer

I went to a big time soccer game last night, of which there are not, alas, many on a regular basis in America. I was there, at FedEx Field where the Washington Redskins usually rule, with 67,000 other people, including an American friend, who had not seen much soccer before last night, but who came home a fan.

How could he not be? The evening was soft, the atmosphere exciting, joyous and friendly. In the stands were Americans, Brazilians, Latinos, soccer moms and soccer dads with their sons and daughters, coaches with their young players. In 90 minutes, it was all done — not an eternally long, and constantly interrupted game, like in baseball or American football.

Yes, Brazil beat the United States, 4 -1, what else is new? Brazil is just the best, and the American side was never close to winning. It seemed, in fact, that in spite of all their big game experience with the national team around the world, and with their clubs in Britain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Holland, the Americans were intimidated by their opponents, at least in the first half. They lacked resoluteness, speed, toughness, even energy.

But it was a glorious evening anyway, a big night for American soccer. As this sport continues to grow in this country, I have no doubt that the United States will be a true power house in the world’s biggest sport.

Want to read more? Here is Sam Borden’s excellent piece in today’s New York Times.

“Pacific Standard Time” — about Los Angeles’ modern art

Los Angeles, today, has world-class museums – that’s easy to forget in the sun on the beaches from Redondo to Malibu.

And right now it’s more exciting than usual to visit the city’s many museums because of a large, joint effort about the Los Angeles art and design scene between 1945 and 1980. Called “Pacific Standard Time,” it involves 60 cultural institutions in Los Angeles and up to Santa Barbara in the north, Palm Springs to the east, and San Diego in the south. What an abundance of exciting and inspiring exhibits about how Los Angeles became a world leader in the arts!

We only managed to visit three of the museums during our recent visit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Getty Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Wish we had more time…

LACMA is just getting better and better since we lived in Los Angeles ten years ago. Enlarged and renovated, it is so pleasant, and the exhibition “California Design, 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way'” reflects the city’s exciting development in art and design, especially after World War II. Swedish-born Greta Magnusson Grossman, who moved to Los Angeles in 1949 and died there in 1999 and who became a leading name among the city’s architects and designers, participates with three of her designs.  She said once:

”California design is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions…it has developed out of our own preference for living in a modern way.”

One of my favorites is otherwise the mobile home, “Clipper,” from 1936, by Wallace “Wally” M. Bryan, after Pan Am’s Clipper. Has there ever been a more stylish mobile home?

The Getty Center, in the Santa Monica Mountains, is always worth a visit in itself… to take the little tram up the mountain and spend part of the day high above the city among the museums many treasures and gardens followed by lunch in the sun, is a peaceful excursion, away from it all. Getty’s three shows, “Crosscurrents in LA Painting and Sculpture, 1950 – 1970,” “Greetings from LA: Artists and Public 1945-1980,” and “From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column” make the visit infinitely more interesting than usual.

And MOCA, in the middle of downtown next to Little Tokyo, with its avantgarde “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 – 1981” gives an excellent picture of the frenzied activities in the Los Angeles art scene during those turbulent years, between Richard Nixon’s resignation after the Watergate scandal and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the two California presidents. The exhibition takes its name after a song by the local punk band X, about how the California dream and the optimism of the hippie years in the late 60s turned into the disillusioned years after Watergate and Vietnam.

From the beach to LA’s revived downtown

Los Angeles, full of contrasts.

A day on the beach in Malibu in October and a lovely lunch with seared tuna at Paradise Cove, the hidden, little beach with a restaurant up the coast a few miles from Santa Monica.

In the evening, a chamber music concert at Frank Gehry’s magnificent Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, that long forgotten part of the big city that now is coming alive fast. At dusk, in the setting sun, the whole building turns bluish in a marvelous color display, and I experience the same stunning revelation as in Bilbao, Spain, driving into that city and rounding a corner to face that masterpiece by Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum.

A drink before the concert in the garden roof of the concert hall and the surrounding cityscape seems to have nothing to do with what we usually think of Los Angeles.

And after the concert, a delicious hamburger and a beer at Nickel Diner, a fun little art deco place right in the middle of the, by so many, dreaded downtown. Since my last visit here, it’s clear that downtown LA is changing and changing fast, even though the streets later at night are still eerily deserted except for the 700 or so who are camped around City Hall down the street showing that the Occupy Wall Street movement is also alive and well in California, a movement that gets more support from the public than the Tea Party, according to Pew Research Center’s latest poll.

A mound of flowers at Apple in memory of Jobs

On the sidewalk below Steve Jobs’ office at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, the mound of flowers in memory of Silicon Valley’s perhaps the greatest name ever is still many feet high. 

At Stanford University, a few miles north, a memorial service in the church on the campus was recently held, where one computer giant after another, Bill Gates, David Packard, William Hewlett, Paul Allen, Jerry Yang, have their buildings on the university’s fabulous, still unfinished science campus. There is no building with Steve Jobs’s name, at least not yet.

Today, his biography came out, written by veteran journalist and author Walter Isaacson, who wrote the brilliant biographies of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. Isaacson was contacted by Jobs himself a few years ago and asked to write about his life. Jobs knew he was dying but refused for years to undergo the surgery that the doctors recommended. It was something that Jobs came to regret, according to Isaacson.

The book, “Steve Jobs” will certainly become a bestseller, and certainly not the last book about Jobs. But here, just a few weeks after Steve Jobs’ death, the book is a little strange to read, wrote Janet Maslin in The New York Times this weekend under the headline “Making the iBio for Apple’s Genius.”

Sarah Palin will not be a candidate

With Sarah Palin’s no tonight, and with Chris Christie’s no yesterday, the Republican presidential field is set — seven men and one woman. That’s it. No more.

One of these eight will be the Republican presidential candidate next year, and one of them, if Obama loses, will be the next president…

Palin’s announcement tonight was much overdue. She had tested many voters’ patience with her games surrounding her candidature. In the end, she ran out of time. But she probably also realized that she was not going to win the nomination. With 63 per cent of Republican voters not wanting her to run, how could she?

In her statement, she promised to stay active:

“I believe that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office – from the nation’s governors to Congressional seats and the Presidency. We need to continue to actively and aggressively help those who will stop the “fundamental transformation” of our nation and instead seek the restoration of our greatness, our goodness and our constitutional republic based on the rule of law.”