The New Reality of the New Wold

25 juni 2006

I left Los Angeles late yesterday evening to return to the Old Continent.

It remains a place that is equally strange and fascinating. It’s truly a metropolis of the modern world.

The five-county LA metropolitan region is the home to more than 20 million people with very diverse backgrounds.

It is not only the second largest Mexican city on the planet, but also a ranking Korean, Iranian, Armenian and Ethiopian metropolis, not to speak about all the Europeans to be found there.

So the World Cup there has been somewhat problematic.

A few nights ago, thousands of Koreans gathered in their part of town to join the national mourning back home as their team was defeated by – of all people – the Swiss. The Koreans made the front page of the LA times.

But it’s really been Maexico that’s been popular.

Statistics from the cable TV companies highlight the nature of the city at a time of global conflicts like these.

And they demonstrate that there are far more fans of Mexian soccer teams in the LA market than there are passionate supporters of the USA squad. And neither team seems to have done spectacular.

It’s not only that the matches involving the Mexican team have been far more watched, it’s also that this has been done in Spanish rather than English. The combined Mexian rating on Spanish-language TV has been 21,7 – compared with 11,9 for the USA games.

It’s the new reality of the New World that is emerging.


Great National Trauma

25 juni 2006

Well, it seems as if the Los Angeles Times got it basically right concerning the fate of Sweden in the confrontation with Germany.

In view of the emotions that have gone into the effort, consequences can’t be anything but severe.

I don’t know if the King is considering abdication. That the Prime Minister will have to resign in disgrace I take for granted – he did not miss any media opportunity to announce the glory to come.

Public executions are out of fashion since a couple of centuries, but psychiatric counselling in so called ”crisis groups” is very much the fashion of the time.

I guess there will be the need for collective national psychiatric counselling after this.

But – on the balance – I expect Sweden to survive.


Morning in Santa Monica

24 juni 2006

Morning in Santa Monica with the waves of the Pacific Ocean coming in.

The morning mist hasn’t really lifted yet, but soon the sun will burst through. It will be a warm day.

I’m here to give the commencement address at this year’s graduation ceremony at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. It might well be the world’s leading institution when it comes to education in policy analysis.

New PhD’s from all over the world will graduate here today. And have to listen to my remarks – among others.

But it will be a short stay. More or less immediately after the ceremonies I’m heading the few miles to LAX to catch a flight back to Europe.

In the meantime, the fate of Sweden in the World Cup might well have been decided.

It does not seem to be such an enormous issue here in California, although the Sports Section of Los Angeles Times does mention it, and I notice that the game can be seen on both Channel 7 in English and Channel 34 in Spanish here.

And LA Times own prediction for the game is that Germany will win with a single goal, perhaps in overtime.

Whether the beaches, streeets and schools of Southern California will be deserted remains however to be seen.


Finland Explains

24 juni 2006

Well, in a week’s time Finland takes over the Presidency of the European Union.

It has already unveiled the symbol it has decided on for its six-month period.

I’m not certain what it represents, but as always there is help to be found on profound matters like this.

And I can’t abstain from sharing with you the rather elaborate explanation of the symbolism of the thing offered on the website of the Finnish Presidency:

The design concept describes growth and development, a new direction forward, and the Finnish way of attending to matters in an open and direct manner. The logo draws inspiration from the lines and colours of the Nordic landscape. It depicts cooperation among the Member States of the European Union and their aspiration to debate and make decisions on matters of common interest.”

”The logo suggests the green of a burgeoning forest, the sweep of the horizon and the blue of water shimmering the sun. The contemporary feel to the point on the right-hand side symbolises progressive Finnish thinking and seems to point the way forwards. The transparency of the design conveys openness.”

Well, perhaps.

Or, perhaps not.


Midsummer!

23 juni 2006

There is probably nothing as Swedish or Nordic as the celebration of midsummer.

The classic painting by Anders Zorn of the midsummer dance in the bright midsummer night of Dalecarlia portrays an integral part of the myth of Sweden.

This midsummer is unlikely to be different. Parties, dancing, an element of schnaps and the occasional bouquet of wild flowers. Some herring, and hopefully some fresh potatoes.

I had my start on this before leaving Sweden a couple of days ago and travelling south through a football-centric Europe.

And now I’m spending midsummer eve in the stratosphere on a flight taking me to far-away Los Angeles.

Somewhat strange, I have to confess.


Things Brighten up in Vienna

23 juni 2006

With President Bush leaving Vienna after the summit with the European Union, the six months of the Austrian presidency is essentially over.

On July 1st the European baton is handed over to Finland and Helsinki.

The Austrian presidency has not been spectacular, but it has been solid. And that’s roughly what these rotating presidencies are supposed to be.

They are not there to fundamentally change, but merely to chair, the politics of Europe. And in the process move to processes of reform and integration forward.

Measured like this, the Austrians did well.

There was a tendency towards caution in some of what they did. The reason for this was the approaching parliamentary elections, likely to be held in November. One wanted success out of the different summits – and too daring policies might have invited the risk of public failures.

If the opinion polls are to be believed, the tactica seems to have worked.

During the past nearly four years, the opposition SPOE has been consistently ahead of the Chancellors OEVP. But during the last few weeks opinion polls have registred a steady decline for the former and a steady rise for the later, with OEVP now stronger than its main rival.

The perceived success of the Austrian presidency might be one of the reasons for this, but part of the picture is also the close association of SPOE with the scandal-ridden central Austrian trade unions. In near bankcrupcy after different dubious deals, they have tarnished the reputation of their Social Democratic political party as well.

But November is a long time off, and a week can be a very long time in politics.

But the relative success of Vienna in chairing the politics of Europe, and the ascending support of its centre-right leadership as it starts to head towards elections, is still worth noting.


Who Will Win? Who Will Lose?

20 juni 2006

These days I’m leaving Sweden for the summer and relocating to more Southern parts of Europe.

The pace of blogging will certainly suffer somewhat as well.

We are heading towards the Midsummer celebration, and that’s normally when normal activity on these latitudes cease. After that, Stockholm is a city left for the tourists to explore, while the natives migrate to all different directions.

But after the summer comes to elections on September 17. They will decide who will govern Sweden during the next four years. Most important.

The governing Social Democrats have been plagued by a series of scandals of different dimensions during the year. All have betrayed the increased arrogance that comes with having too much power for too long.

The Danielsson scandal – which I have commented upon repeatedly here – has caused him to take an extended – essentially eternal – vacation from his job, and there is now an official investigation into his lying.

But in spite of the different scandals of arrogance, opinion polls have shown the red-green bloc recovering some lost ground, and the situation as we head into the summer seems fairly balanced between the two blocs.

You might argue that with the perception being that the economy is booming, they should be well ahead in the polls. But they are burdened by the scandals and by an urge for something different and more forward-looking.

It’s far from clear which ground the election will be fought on. The debate so far is rather uncertain.

The centre-right Alliance is focusing on the inability too create sufficient employment in the economy, which is undoubtedly a key long-term problem, although it might not be seen as that acute in a situation in which the figures are starting to improve somewhat.

The Social Democrats, for their part, are almost exclusively concentrating on negative campaigning against the opposition. It’s the usual smear campaign, saying that any other government would be the fairly immediate end of most of the good things in life.

But they have a numgber of big problems.

One is that while PM Göran Persson certainly does not want to lose the election, I’m not certain that he really wants to win. He gives the distinct impression of wanting to do most other things in life except being Prime Minister – done that, seen that. And the quality of governance is clearly suffering as a result.

Then there is the problem of his semi-alliance with the Green Party and the ex-Communists. They are both pretty wild in their demands.

The ex-Communists have just published a platform advocating a massive increase in public empliyment as well as Sweden leaving the Schengen cooperation and the ”dissolution” of the European Union.

For a party that never asked for the ”dissolution” of the Soviet Union that’s undoubtedly somewhat on the thick side.

How Persson intends to govern with this increasingly aggressive lot is beyond anyones imagination. It is most probably beyond his as well, and add to the impression that he doesn’t reallt want to win. It looks much too messy on the other side.

At the end of the day I would guess that a rather lackluster election campaign after the summer will result in Persson having his secret wish of leaving the entire mess fulfilled.

The combination of the arrogance of power and the obvious absence of will to really do anything any longer might well be what tips the balance with the large number of undecided voters – polls speak about record numbers of undecided.

But September is a long way from now. This is my interim assessment.


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