Monday, November 24, 2008

Barack Obama Introduces His Economics Team

Tough Team Needed For Obama's Big Jolt

People who complain about Barack Obama picking experienced insiders rather than political newbies can't be serious about change. It's not that he has moved "center-right", but that he is getting ready for the Big Bang, the Big Jolt!

If Obama were interested in mainly posing as a radical president, he could very well have started to stuff his coming cabinet with ideological lefties, but such an Obama administration would hardly have survived half it's political honeymoon. There will be missteps, but if you assemble an inexperienced team in a time of crisis, and then launch a program of radical change, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Instead, Obama is picking out a team that instills confidence even among his political enemies, and makes the conservative columnist in New York Times, David Brooks, burst out that "I find myself tremendously impressed by the Obama transition".

"Obama seems to have dispensed with the romantic and failed notion that you need inexperienced 'fresh faces' to change things. After all, it was L.B.J. who passed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, because he is so young, Obama is not bringing along an insular coterie of lifelong aides who depend upon him for their well-being.

As a result, the team he has announced so far is more impressive than any other in recent memory. One may not agree with them on everything or even most things, but a few things are indisputably true.
First, these are open-minded (.........)
Second, they are admired professionals. (....)
Third, they are not excessively partisan. (....)
Fourth, they are not ideological. (....)
Finally, there are many people on this team with practical creativity. (....)

Believe me, I’m trying not to join in the vast, heaving O-phoria now sweeping the coastal haute bourgeoisie. But the personnel decisions have been superb. The events of the past two weeks should be reassuring to anybody who feared that Obama would veer to the left or would suffer self-inflicted wounds because of his inexperience. He’s off to a start that nearly justifies the hype."

The team he is putting together is a team that can handle the Big Jolt necessary to jump start the American economy and lead the world economy out of the recession, and out of the disastrous Bush/Cheney Era.

"We need a clear break," Austan Goolsbee, one of Obama's top economic advisors told CNBC, CNN and MSNBC on Monday morning, in advance of the President-elect's announcement of his economic team, which is expected around noon today.

Goolsbee made clear that the new president will "come in with a bang... a one-two punch" in terms of a huge economic rescue package, which some experts believe could reach a trillion dollars if not more. Obama will cut taxes for most Americans, investment in the country's collapsing infrastructure, as well as in schools and green energy, just the kind of investments that can create jobs and raise the economy's efficiency over time, as well as make the U.S. more independent of foreign oil and make a contribution to fighting global warming.

Getting an experienced team in place does not mean sacrificing "change". Having Barack Obama in place as the "decidererer" means that change reached the top. The rest is execution, and it better be executed well, or we are heading further down the slope.

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John McCain Is Not the Real Stuff

Tim Dickinson, a contributiong editor at The Rolling Stones magazine sums up John McCain in a few and very interesting minutes. John McCain has more in common with Sarah Palin than one migh first suspect: Both are basically shameless self-promoters, with very little substance to back up their claims, whether it regards their own history, or their featherlight opnions. They pride to call themselves mavericks, but there are many less flattering names for people who pretend to be something they are not.

Watch the Rolling Stone piece here!

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pea Soup, Punch & A New Book

In case you didn't know it, Swedes have a particular affinity for pea soup - made of yellow peas and not the split green peas that count for pea soup in the U.S. When I served in the Swedish army - which was mandatory back then - we had peasoup and Swedish pancakes every Thursday for dinner. The food at the cantina usually sucked and so did the pancakes, but the pea soup was great.

For Swedes abroad pea soup brings you closer to home, which is why Manhattan sports it's own Swedish pea soup association - Ärtans Vänner - born some forty years ago, and still surviving.

Next Thursday I will attend the Halloween Pea Soup Party hosted by Ärtans Vänner, and introduce my new book Swedish-American Currents. Check out the online invite here!

And You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Stupider... Try "Socialism" Or "the Russians Are Coming"

John McCain is desperate. His campaign is floundering and his Vice President candidate is a public embarrassment, attracting only devout foot soldiers and what looks like a bunch of beefy, beer-bellied guys, who would love to drool all over over her at the nearest pool hall.

The McPain campaign has tried everything out of the republican playbook, but for once it seems that the democrats have found their own Teflon Man. For all the muck they have been throwing his way, Barack Obama looks as crisp and neat as ever. And his lead is growing!

Hence the socialism debate, which is really farfetched, but hey, these are desperate times if you are a conservative republican hoping to extend the George W. Bush era for another eight years. So now there is talk about socialism and even communism. Neither McCain nor Palin dare to say it straight, so they quote instead their newfound think-tank, Joe-the-Wannabe-Plumber, who asked if Obama's tax plan isn't "socialism."

What did Barack Obama say to enter the Socialist Hall of Fame? Well, he suggested that it's not a bad thing to spread wealth around a bit, by taxing the rich more. My God, what an offense! Only thing is that you would have to put most American presidents in this Hall of Fame with Barack Obama as they all have used the tax system for income redistribution, and so would John McCain if he became president. But a McCain-Palin government would do its best to redistribute from the middle class to the rich, and cut services for the poor, which might not exactly be "what Jesus would do."

For all her lowlife Joe Sixpack attraction, the shopoholic Sarah Palin looks more and more like Marie Antoinette, who (probably wrongly) was accused of callously suggesting that the poor could "eat cake" if they couldn't afford bread. For all her parrotting, prancing and giggling, she is no friend of the average Joe, and neither is Joe McCain.

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sharp Critic of President George W. Bush Wins the Nobel Prize In Economics

Media captures Princeton University's toast for Paul Krugman.

He looked happy, but tired and slightly frazzled, which one probably should expect from an economist these turbulent days, and certainly from one that just got the call from the Royal Swedish Academy informing him that he has been awarded the Noble Prize in Economics. 

Paul Krugman gets the prize for his research as a young man, modifying the classic theory of copmparative advantages to bring it a bit closer to reality. At Princeton University he is a popular lecturer and text book author, but for the past eight years he has written columns for the New York Times, and it is these sharp and often biting columns that has made hime famous outside the Academical world. He is politically progressive, and supported Hillary Clinton until she pulled out of the primary. His criticism of George W. Bush's economic and political follies has been an ongoing theme in his columns.  

He said at the press conference in Princeton that he is not interested in a post in a Barack Obama government, saying that working in the government doesn't agree with his temper.

A happy, but exhausted winner.

Paul Krugman with John Nash, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics.

Paul Krugman with colleagues at the Economics Department.

Paul Krugman was naturally asked to comment on the current financial crisis, and sounded slightly optimistic after the summit in Europe over the weekend.
"This was the first time that the decisionmakers surpassed the expectations, he said."

Hans Sandberg

Monday, October 13, 2008

George Soros Speaks

Watch Bill Moyers' interview with George Soros!

Read John Cassidy's extensive review of George Soro's new book The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means in the same magazine.

Also read The Financial Crisis: An Interview with George Soros in the May 15, 2008 issue of the magazine. 

And George Soros article The Perilous Price of Oil in the September 25, 2008 issue.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Blatte United - A Swedish Soccer Team That Shines On and Off the Field

Blond and blue-eyed they are not, but they come from Sweden, speak Swedish, love soccer, and are proud of their mixed heritage. In New York they found good jobs, opportunities, and a chance to not stand out as “immigrants.” And there they came together as Blatte United, one of the city’s best amateur soccer teams.

For all the multiculturalism of the intellectual and political circles in Sweden, immigrants and their children find it hard to fit in. They often sense that they stick out because of their parents, the way they look, maybe even a foreign accent. It’s true that Sweden has a generous public policy when it comes to refugees and other immigrants, providing them with housing, education, and the other boons of the welfare state, but it’s still hard to find a qualified job if your name is Ahmed and not Anders. (Some immigrants take more Swedish-sounding names so that their job applications won’t be immediately dismissed.)

The members of Blatte United didn’t “flee” Sweden, but they are all living in New York, some permanently, some temporarily while studying. Most of them didn’t know each other before Medufia “Keke” Kulego and Omino Gardezi met at a Manhattan party, realized that they were both Swedes, and discovered that they both loved soccer. An idea was born, and soon enough, they had formed a team that later was named after the Swedish slang for immigrant: Blatte.

On June 7, Blatte United won Manhattan’s Bowery Cup in Chinatown after defeating Bowery Football Club 2 in the semifinal and Bowery Football Club 1 in the final. These were two incredibly intense matches played under a scorching midday sun with just a short break between. All three teams played to win. They played tough, sometimes rough, but without resorting to dirty tricks.

Four days later I met up with five members of the team at Syrup Inc., a hot ad agency in Manhattan’s TriBeCa district. (Jakob Dashek, son of a Swedish mother and a father of Finnish-Czech descent, and Robert Holzer, an American who once worked at New York Times Digital, founded Syrup eight years ago.)

Selim Adira was born in southern Sweden to parents who had immigrated from Morocco. He moved to the U.S. three years ago to work as restaurant manager for the Swedish restaurant Ulrika, and now runs the official residence for the Swedish UN ambassador Anders Lidén. When Adira lived in Rosengård, a large immigrants’ suburb in outer Malmö, he played soccer with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who later went on to become Sweden’s leading soccer star.

Sebastian Alvarado played soccer on Sweden’s junior national team as well as in Spain’s Division 2. His father came from Chile, his mother from Finland. He arrived in the U.S. five years ago and today is business development manager at Syrup.

Omino Gardezi grew up in Sweden. His father was a diplomat from India and his mother came from Iran. He moved to New York in 1993 and is one of the top managers for Syrup. He also has his own media-consulting firm, S.A.M.

Adel Koubaa is a medical student at Sweden’s in-ternationally renowned research hospital Karolinska Institutet. For the past six months he has done research at Boston University and New York’s Columbia University. Koubaa was born in Sweden to parents from Tunisia.

Medufi a “Keke” Kulego is known to Currents readers, as we introduced him in our banking and finance issue (Winter 2007). He was born in Malmö, Sweden, to parents from Ghana. He grew up in Rosengård and excelled at soccer. Like many of his immigrant friends he dreamed of becoming a pro, but his father insisted that he excel at school too, which he did. He landed a soccer scholarship that took him to St. John’s University on Long Island, where he stayed for four years. When he returned to Sweden with a degree in business marketing and finance, he discovered that the only job he could get was as a physical education teacher at a local high school. Disappointed, he moved back to New York, where he became a hedgefund manager.

Blatte’s passion for soccer is certainly something its players share with other Swedes, as well as with people all over the world (except in the U.S., where American football rules the sports mainstream). But in addition to winning late night and weekend soccer games, they are succeeding in New York City, an ultra-competitive place where you would think that displaying a Swedish mentality in a business setting sounds like a bad joke.

But none of my new Blatte friends would hesitate for a moment to put “Swedish” on their business cards. For them, their Swedish connections and mentality are big plusses. “It’s great to be able to say that you come from Sweden!” Omino Gardezi says. “I definitely say that, even though my dad came from India and my mother from Iran. I’m a Swedish citizen, and my nationality is Swedish.

”The Swedish business mentality has a lot to do with building long-term relationships, while it’s a more short-term thing for Americans,” Gardezi goes on. “Swedes are a bit more cautious and would never want to burn any bridges. They are diplomatic and take their time. I believe we have an advantage as immigrant Swedes. We have the aggressive foreign mentality, but at the same time we’ve acquired the  Swedish mentality from living in Sweden. This is a great combination that’s worked out really well for us all here.” “It’s definitely a good thing to be a Swede in the U.S.,” Sebastian Alvarado agrees. “People have an immediate picture of Sweden — they like it right off the bat. And Sweden has definitely formed us. When Americans hear that you are from Sweden, they assume you’re a hard worker, disciplined, and humble. We are automatically helped by this. In busi-ness, Sweden is known as a  highly developed country with advanced industries. Swedes have a very strong reputation.”

“They have a fantastic reputation, for coming from such a small country,” says Gardezi. “Sports, culture, design, you just name it,” says Alvarado.

“In my field, finance,” says Keke Kulego, “Swedes are very humble and down-to-earth, while Americans are more aggressive in their posture and how they see things. Everything is big. Everything is loud.”

“Swedes’ down-to-earth approach is very non-threatening,” Gardezi says. “Americans are so gung-ho about everything, but they really like the mellow Swedish attitude.”

But as good as the Swedish mentality can be when blended with the Blatte mentality, on its own it can hold you back. When you move to New York, you need to shed some of your Swedishness if you’re going to make it. “We immigrants have that fire in us that the ordinary Swede doesn’t have,” says Kulego.

“The Swedish humility is a positive thing for us, because we know how to balance it.”

“You can tell the difference between somebody who’s been here for a while and someone who’s new,” says Alvarado. “People who’ve been here a few years get a tougher skin and dare to be a little more pushy, while the newcomers act more Swedish.”

"Back home you have a formula to stick to,” says Kulego. “You’re not allowed to be loud and stick out. You’re not allowed to be yourself. If you don’t stick to the formula, you’re seen as crazy and obnoxious. In Sweden, it’s not good to be full of yourself, believe in yourself and talk aloud about it.”

“It’s almost strange, because a lot of Swedes here are completely integrated into American society,” Gardezi says.

“Swedes are very flexible,” Alvarado says, thinking of Swedes abroad. “You can put a Swede almost anywhere and he will adapt well. That’s actually something Swedes are very good at, and they fit in really well into the U.S. Most Swedes love New York and the atmosphere here.

“There is, however, a big difference between us immigrant Swedes and what you call ordinary Swedes,” Alvarado continues. “We’re more aggressive right from the start, more daring. We have a little more of this Zlatan mentality. Maybe you need to be something in between,” he says, displaying the Swede’s typical preference for lagom (“just right.”)

"We have immigrants to Sweden who’ve been very successful here. Just look at Omino, who runs much of this company, and Keke, who works for a hedgefund, and Marcus Samuelsson with his restaurants. Their success has a lot to do with their multicultural background, with the fact that they dared to break the barriers. It has a lot to do with personality, and a Swedish mentality of discipline and hard work, but they would never have made it if they hadn’t dared to go for it,” Alvarado says, pointing to Frans Johansson’s book The Medici Effect (see Currents No. 1, 2005).

Sweden’s famous welfare system leaves our Blattar with mixed feelings. On one hand, they admire Americans for working hard and not complaining about it, whereas Swedes complain about being exhausted after having worked 9 to 5. On the other hand, they feel that Americans work so hard because they don’t know better. “All they’ve ever known is working 10 to 12 hours a day with two weeks of vacation a year. In Sweden you’re aware of alternatives,” says Alvarado. “I like the fact that workers stick to their rights in Sweden. Nobody talks about that or unions here, so you can push workers around more. They can sack you and you’ll be out the next day with two weeks’ pay if you’re lucky. I know many who that’s happened to.”

“I admire that Americans work without complaining so much. Even if they work until 8 in the evening, they can go out and have a drink with friends. People are having more fun. Try that at home,” Selim Adira says, but Alvarado interjects: “Here in New York, many are young and don’t have families and children yet. People come here to make a career and make money, so the tempo is high.” When you leave home you change. For Swedes, it’s as if the Law of Jante (groupthink) loosens its grip abroad. “Swedes at home and Swedes abroad are like two different types,” says Adel Koubaa. “Over here they enjoy being social, while they’re more careful at home. My parents have lived in Sweden for 33 years, and even though they have colleagues at work, they don’t have any close Swedish friends, friends that you can just drop in on. When people meet, it’s for formal dinners.”

“But how many American friends do you have here?” Gardezi asks.

“I have quite a few,” Alvarado says.

“But how many do you see regularly? I’ve lived here since 1993, but I see three, maybe four Americans,” Gardezi says, which brings him back to Blatte United. “You try to connect to people that share your interests. My mother’s best friend comes from Chile. Our group here connects because we come from similar neighborhoods and have similar experiences from school. We have a lot in common.”

“It’s easy for guys to join our group. We work in very different trades, but we all have soccer as our big passion, and we have a similar mentality,” Alvarado says.

”When my dad visited me in New York, he was so surprised at the fact that people talked to us everywhere,” Adira says. “He told me that at home, he takes the bus every day but nobody ever talks to him. Nobody says hi, and they don’t ask how you are  doing, but here people are so warm and friendly. ‘How are you doing?’ people ay when you enter a store. They talk to people they don’t know. People are also very polite and helpful here in New York.”

“And still, they’re much nicer in California and other parts of the country. There they think New Yorkers are unfriendly,” Alvarado comments.

What do other Swedes think when they hear about what the Blatte group is doing here?

“We work with a lot of Swedish companies, and they’re usually completely wowed about everything we’ve done,” says Alvarado. “We’ve worked with big brands and we’ve done this and that. They are always wowed and they ask, ‘How did you do that?’”

“Traditional Swedes are amazed when they see us, but you know, we never got the chance in Sweden. That’s the dilemma,” says Kulego. “They’re impressed, and there is something in them that’s happy we’re Swedes, but there’s also something that can’t believe we’ve reached this stage. And then they say, ‘Wow, you speak Swedish so well,’ and I say, ‘Why shouldn’t I? I was born in Sweden!’ They can’t really grasp that we’re doing well over here, but we could have done well in Sweden if we’d gotten a chance.

Hans Sandberg

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Evolving Swedish (Business) Mind

(First published in Currents Magazine No. 3 2008.)

Let’s say you’re an American having dinner in Stockholm with a Swedish businessman. The food is delicious and the view of the Royal Palace across the water is spectacular. Everything would be perfect if it weren’t for the silence. “Why am I doing all the talking?” you wonder. “I thought we understood each other, but I’m not so sure anymore.”

Here you are in one of the most Americanized countries in Europe, yet you feel like you could be in Japan or China. You can’t read your partner’s mind, and his body language isn’t helping much. He, on the other hand, is satisfied with today’s meetings, but would rather go over a few details of the project than engage in small talk about personal stuff.

“Swedish businessmen abroad tend to be too single-mindedly focused on doing business, even at a dinner with their business partners. French and Japanese businessmen see this as a purely social event, an opportunity to get to know the person they’re dealing with, to learn about his hobbies, his family and children. To many Swedes, this is strange. They don’t understand the weight this is given in other countries, and even if they do, they don’t always know what to say, as they often lack knowledge about their own culture and history,” says Åke Daun, a retired professor of ethnology at the University of Stockholm and the author of several books about Swedish culture including Swedish Mentality (Stockholm, 1989), which shaped much of the debate on the issue in Sweden.

Once you get to know the Swedes, you’ll realize that there is nothing wrong with you, nor with your Swedish partner. It’s just that you’re coming from two different cultures. While Americans live in subcultures that are often ethnically mixed and overlapping, most Swedes live in homogenous environments where it doesn’t take much context to figure somebody out. This is why it’s said to be a “low-context” culture.

The Swedes have a reputation for being hard workers, great inventors, socially progressive, skilled at international diplomacy, as well as savvy business-men who have built global empires such as ABB, Electrolux, Ericsson, IKEA, H&M, Saab, SKF, and Volvo. But then again, they can be painfully shy and awkward.

Stereotypes are stereotypes, shortcuts we take when we can’t or don’t want to deal with reality in all its complexity. But once we take a closer look, the simplistic image seems to dissolve, revealing a more complex picture. Take Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, one of the most famous Swedes in soccer. Every Swede knows Zlatan. Next, Aquavit’s famous chef has a perfectly Swedish name — Marcus Samuelsson — but he was born in Ethiopia and adopted by a Swedish couple at the age of three. There are about one million Swedes like Marcus and Zlatan these days, and some of them have even made their way over to the U.S. In this issue you will meet some of Samuelsson’s friends in Blatte United, a soccer team made up of young immigrants who had immigrated to Sweden as children but have since emigrated to New York. They all speak Swedish, often with a southern accent, and are proud of their Swedishness, as well as of their “blatteness” (blatte is slang for ”immigrant” in Sweden).

So being Swedish doesn’t have to mean you’re blond, blue-eyed, and boring, but there are still Swedes who fit the stereotype. A foreigner with a little experience can usually pick out a Swede at a party. They hover among other Swedes like penguins waiting for their spouses to return from the long journey. The lucky ones find an acquaintance to exchange a few words with, but the conversation seldom gets going until alcohol has softened the grip of Lutheran guilt, which strangely enough has survived a century of secularization.

Åke Daun traces the Swedish mentality back to the country’s rough climate and late industrialization. The modern Swede was late in becoming urbanized, and when a large part of the population moved to the big cities and suburbs in southern and central Sweden (during the 1950s, 60s and 70s), they brought with them a rural village culture. Mr. and Mrs. Svensson found themselves lived in modern-looking cities and suburbs but were still peasants at heart, to quote Martin J. Gannon’s Understanding Global Cultures (Sage Publications, 3rd edition, 2003).

“When Swedes meet, they look for sameness, for the least common denominator,” says Daun. “It’s still one of the most homogenous countries in Europe, and its peasant culture survived well into the 1950s. Before the Second World War, most people lived in rural areas or small towns, and Stockholm was a very small capital with very few foreign tourists.

“The population’s homogeneity resulted in a strong expectation for likeness in social meetings. If you meet people you don’t know at a dinner party, you will almost instinctively look for what you have in common, whether it’s ideas, hobbies, work or common acquaintances. You will avoid divergent views during the initial conversation. A good host always tries to match up guests that have something in common to ensure that the dinner conversation will be nice.

“One result of this cautious ambition to find similarities is that it can be hard for a Swede to join a conversation with several people at once. Hence, the Swede might prefer to just listen and look interested,” Daun says.

Historically, Sweden’s rough terrain (only seven percent arable land) and short harvest season put a premium on hard work and practicality. You had to stick together and cooperate in order to survive the long, cold winter, and during the brief summer you had to work from early morning to late at night to reap the harvest. You had to be practical, one reason that Martin Luther’s puritan ethos gained such a strong hold on the Swedish mind. This down-to-earth, egalitarian attitude was later absorbed by the social-democratic labor movement that ruled Sweden for most of the 20th century.

When it comes to the shyness Swedes are so famous for, Daun says they share this trait with Americans. He points to research he did with his American colleague James McCroskey at the University of West Virginia, who is an expert on shyness. “We studied students in several countries and found that American and Swedish students were equally shy, but while the American culture encouraged the students to overcome this social handicap, the Swedish culture associated it with humility and high morals. The quiet person was seen as deep and reflective, while people who talked a lot were seen as superficial and difficult.

“While being outspoken and speaking up are seen as signs of self-confidence in the U.S., in Sweden this is seen as being boastful and lacking humility. In the U.S., on the other hand, as well as in Southern Europe, a person of few words is perceived as stupid, one who has nothing to say. Swedes take it as a negative if you talk a lot and are loud. It’s a sign of being a foreigner, of being different,” Daun says.

This can create problems for immigrants to Sweden, especially if you’re coming from an old-city culture where you spend a lot of time talking as a way of investigating your social environment. In such a high-context culture, you can’t take for granted that you understand other people, which is why you need to talk to them.

But the stereotypical Swede is becoming far less typical, and this is especially true for entrepreneurs, innovators, and businesspersons. To run a business, you have to step out of the mold and dare to break the “Law of Jante” (i.e., the “Don’t believe you’re special!” attitude that grew out of Sweden’s egalitarian village culture and the bureaucratic capitalism which emerged during the 16th and 17th centuries).

Add to that that the entire Swedish society has gone through tremendous changes over the past few decades. Sweden’s already highly international economy has grown even more integrated into the globalized world, thanks to cross-national mergers such as those that gave us ABB and Pharmacia Upjohn, and the sale of Saab Automobile to General Motors and Volvo Automobile to Ford Motors. Today, more Swedes than ever are working and traveling abroad, at the same time that Sweden has become mixed economically, culturally, and demographically (13 percent of the population are first or second generation immigrants). Besides, we have a young generation that grew up with Facebook, Google and YouTube and is used to teaming up with people from all around the world to battle shoulder to shoulder in virtual wars. And finally, when Swedes go on vacation, they are as likely to go to Turkey, Thailand, or Trinidad as to stay in their parents’ little red sommarstuga.

Hans Sandberg

What Would Jesus, the Pope, and John Maynard Keynes Do?

What would Jesus do about the financial collapse? Would he come down on Wall Street flipping those tables that haven’t already been flipped? Or would he, like Pope Benedict XVI, preach Buddhist sounding nihilism - 'money vanishes, it is nothing'' - something that an innocent soul - God forbid! - could take to mean that it is all right to fill this globalization pioneer's collection baskets with words rather than those vanishing bills and checks. After all, "only God's words are a solid reality" as the pontiff preached in Rome on Monday.

When the Pope declared the world's financial systems "built on sand," he should have reminded us that not even the most solid faith is enough to keep St. Peter’s Cathedral from crashing down, hence Bramante made sure that it had a firm underpinning. In Wall Street’s case, such underpinnings are called regulations, and I can’t remember having heard demands for government regulations of the financial markets from the Catholic Church.

If we take the Pope’s statement on a personal level, there is certainly an existential truth in his paraphrasing Jesus, "he who builds only on visible and tangible things like success, career and money builds the house of his life on sand''. But one does wonder if that truth also holds in the Vatican City with all its displays of conspicuous wealth? I much enjoy visiting catholic churches, but there is something to say for Lutheran frugality.

But enough of this, because it’s not really what Jesus would do or say that interests us. The real question is what John Maynard Keynes would think if he had been around to watch capitalism performing what looks like a global hara-kiri. Contrary to the classical economists, and our neo-conservative believers, Keynes looked at the real economy, and what he saw after the Great Crash of 1929 was that markets alone would not be able to bring about an equilibrium where all resources are optimally used. Mere humans run the markets, and humans are typically shortsighted. It takes not a village, but a government to pull a country out of a severe recession, or a depression. There is always work that needs to be done. Leaving everything up to the markets carries a political risk that no responsible government can take. Hence it intervenes, projecting its power into the future. The private sector typically does not respond well to needs that are long-term, and where the rewards are indirect and often lies years in the future. What FDR did - inspired by Keynes - was to lead the country and the economy to start working again, whether it was to build roads, dams or water systems. The government can do this and it can - and if it does it well, and for peaceful purposes - give the entire economy the jolt it needs to restart the economic engines.

When capitalism freezes up, it doesn’t mean that our private and social needs have seized to exist, but that there is a general loss of confidence among the actors in the market. There is simply too much fear and uncertainty, which means that the ball de facto has passed from the economic system to the political system.

The world, and the United States in particular, is facing a tremendous need for investments in education, health care, repairing and expanding its collapsing infrastructure, and in converting its energy system from one that exacerbates global warming to one that relies on alternative and sustainable energy and limits its dependence on foreign energy sources. The private sector cannot lead here, but if the government sets out the course, and starts the process, the private sector will soon catch up and take over. That was how the computer industry grew from serving the Department of Defense and NASA to serving the entire society, and the entire world.

The world is now shell-shocked much like after 9/11. Hopefully, the answer will not be ignorance, economic follies, chauvinism and new wars (the McCain Path), but realism, economic and ecological restructuring, fairness and global responsibility (the Obama Path).

Hans Sandberg

Monday, October 6, 2008

And this Man Was Going To Fix the Financial Mess..

There is a ton of things I'd like to say about this video, but it really speaks for itself. It's not shrill, it's not an attack ad, it's just the truth, plainly stated. That's why it is so devastating for McCain. Just watch it!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sarah Palin Did Great - Apply Directly To the Forehead

Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin surprised the world by not making a fool of herself in the debate with Joe Biden, but she did it by following her script so tight that there were moments when I thought I was watching the Head On commercial.

Im a Hockey Mom! Cut Taxes! McCain Is A Maverick! Drill, Baby, Drill!
Im a Hockey Mom! Cut Taxes! McCain Is A Maverick! Drill, Baby, Drill!
Im a Hockey Mom! Cut Taxes! Get the Government Out of the Way!

Hans Sandberg

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

U.S. Ambassador Wood's Reception For SACC-USA

Ambassador Michael Wood gives a welcome toast.

Ambassador Michael Wood and Viveka Wahlstedt,
chairman of SACC-USA.

Gunilla Girardo, president, SACC-USA and
Nils-Eric Svensson, a promoter of Region Skåne in
southern Sweden.

Viveka Wahlstedt presents my book "Swedish-
American Currents" as a farewell gift to the ambassador.

The ambassadoren, who has worked as
a publisher, browses my book about Currents.

The U.S. Ambassador with my book about Currents.

The Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce (SACC-USA) held its annual Entrepreneurial Days conference in Sweden on September 15 and 16 at Hotel Clarion Sign in Stockholm. The night before, the U.S. Ambassador Michael Wood held a VIP-reception at his residens. 

SACC-USA managed to convene a successful conference and matchmaking event with many interesting discussion panels, despite the implosion of the financial markets and turmoil on Wall Street. It was maybe not exactly business as usual, but how often is business actually as usual? At the Edays conference the spirits were high, and the focus on how to create more business opportunities in the U.S. and in Sweden.

Michael Wood's Sunday night reception was in a way a farewell party for the ambassador as he will have been replaced by a new ambassador the next time SACC-USA gathers in Sweden. Michael Wood is a man of great charm and intelligence and he has managed to become one of the most popular U.S. Ambassadors to Sweden ever despite the fact that he represents one of the most impopular U.S. presidents ever, who also happens to be an old friend of the ambassador.
The explanation for this feat is that he is a genuin and totally unpretentious guy, who has focused his effort on connecting Sweden and the U.S. in a field that fits our time perfect: alternative energy. In his speach at Edays, he said that president George W. Bush had given him that task.

In his toast he lauded SACC-USA and SACC-USA's chairman Viveka Wahlstedt lauded the ambassador in her thank you toast. Then she presented the ambassador with my just released book "Swedish-American Currents" to have as a memory of Sweden and SACC-USA when he returns to his homeland.  

Hans Sandberg

Friday, September 12, 2008

How the Supermarket Won Italy’s Hearts and Minds

A floating vegetable store in Venice.     Photo: Hans Sandberg

Trying to find a supermarket in Rome? Good luck, and while you’re searching, stop in at one of the ancient city’s many botteghas, macellerias or salumerias to pick up something to eat and drink. Old ways live on in Italy, especially in the south, which is one reason that it took so long for the supermarket to catch on.

When the first Italian supermarket opened in Milan in 1957, it came at the prodding of Nelson Rockefeller, the American capitalist philanthropist who in 1959 became mayor of New York City and in 1976 vice president to Gerald Ford. He had sponsored similar projects in Latin America that he now introduced to Milan, a stronghold for the Italian Communist Party. The idea was that “it’s hard to be a Communist with a full belly.”

“Italy had lived through two world wars, fascism, poverty, and lacked even the most important goods,” explains Emanuela Scarpellini, associate professor at the University of Milan, and an expert on the history of the Italian Supermarket. What it didn’t lack was stores, mostly small family-run stores. In 1951, there were 951,382 stores and small businesses catering to the public in Italy. 801,837 of them had only one or two employees, 198 had more than 100, while only one had more than 500. (All according to Emanuela Scarpellini’s study “Shopping American-Style: The Arrival of the Supermarket in Postwar Italy”, published in Enterprise & Society, Vol. 5 No. 4, 2004.) And with so many small shopkeepers there was a strong political base for resistance to modernization.

Emanuela Scarpellini, professor at University of
Milan.    Photo courtesy of Emanuela Scarpellini.

The old family-owned store had its charm, and usually excellent food from local producers, but the food was costly and the supply limited. Italy’s grocery sector was “a backward sector, even compared to other European countries”, says Emanuela Scarpellini. “The same was true for the department stores. We only have two national chains in the 1950’s, La Rinascente and Standa.”

A cheese vendor in Rome.                     Photo: Hans Sandberg

Besides, the country’s infrastructure was badly damaged, making it hard to build the necessary logistic and distribution networks. “The depression, the wars and the damages delayed the creation of a national market,” she says.

The American supermarket was not the only alternative to the traditional grocer. Italy already had a very large cooperative movement, which had built buyers coops and agricultural coops. Some of the largest supermarket chains in the country emerged from the cooperative movement, and are today quite common, especially in the north. The Coop group, which consists of nine regional companies, is Italy’s largest supermarket chain, with total sales of 13 billion dollars (Riccardo Lotti, Peter Mensing, and Davide Valenti in “A Cooperative Solution”, published in Strategy + Business July 17, 2006)

But the little guy didn’t go away. “The local mom-' n'-pop stores continue to play an essential role,” wrote Dana Biasetti, an expert at the U.S. Embassy in Rome in an overview published in AgExporter in October 2002.

“Italians were accustomed to small shops, and friendly relations with the shopkeeper,” says Emanuela Scarpellini. “It was part of the social tissue of everyday life. You knew the shopkeeper and he knew you. But by the end of the 1950’s, we had this idea of modernity coming from the United States. America was coming to Italy, and the supermarket was part of that. Much of this was of course an imagined America, brought on by Hollywood movies, media icons and things like that.” America was at the time seen by many as a liberator, a beacon of political freedom, modernity and material wealth.

“With the supermarket, America not only brought in a new type of technical organization, but a symbol for the end of poverty,” says Emanuela Scarpellini.

“The supermarkets had a more efficient organization, self-service, good logistics and a different relation with the producers. They could buy big quantities, and sell at a low price. It was a revolution,” she says.

“We had new and foreign brands coming in, like Coca Cola. Self-service was also very important, because for the first time, customers could touch the goods without the mediation of the shopkeeper. This changed your relation to the goods,” she says.

When growth took off in post-war Italy, people’s income went up giving them money to spend. And the supermarkets and department stores could reach them in new ways through television and TV-advertising. Small stores couldn’t afford that, and were not able to respond to the demand for new categories such as frozen food. “They simply did not have freezers and refrigerators,” she says.

A small supermarket in Montesarchio in southern Italy.
                                                           Photo: Hans Sandberg

Once the supermarkets had established their viability, they were sold to Italian investors, who built new stores and chains. Still, it took a long time for them to become popular. In the 1970’s, supermarkets had less than five percent of food retail sales, according to Emanuela Scarpellini.

“You would find supermarkets mostly in the big cities in the north, in Milan and Turin, and then in Rome and Venice. We must also take into account the fierce opposition by the small shopkeepers and their politicians, who fought this development.”

“Italy was a very decentralized culture, where the butcher and the baker was part of the local infrastructure. And local licensing laws tried to preserve this structure.”

“Political parties such as the Christian Democrats were very weary and worried about the new supermarkets, and feared that their voters would be hurt. They saw it as a question of defending the social fabric, and not only about economics. It was a social and political issue. So we heard a lot about monopolistic capitalism in the 1960’s and 1970’s.”

The relatively underdeveloped domestic Italian retail sector made it easier for French and German food retail giants such as Carrefours and Lidl to set up large new shopping centers and hypermarkets. “After the 1970’s, with the liberalization and globalization, we saw more of the international companies in Italy,” she says, adding “they became important players in 1980’s and 1990’s, especially in the north.”

A new Carrefour "hypermarket" north of Neaples.
                                                                Photo: Hans Sandberg

The international chains increased the pressure on Italy’s food manufacturers as they drove up the imports, as well as forced change and more emphasis on logistics, efficient production and production for export.

“The industry saw that this was the future, that they had to change, and compete on quality, and even price. This was an important adaptation for the Italian food industry.”

One could think that small shops would benefit from the new logistics systems or using the Internet, but the big chains have their own organizations, according to Emanuela Scarpellini. There are local or regional chains for small independent stores, but their way of competing is to “find a particular producer that can give them a special product. They try to differentiate, so that they can offer something unique,” says Emanuela Scarpellini.

“We now have the slow food movement, and many Italian producers have focused on high quality food. The food industry is becoming more important, like the fashion industry. They also contribute to selling the image of Italy.“

The modern supermarket was a response to social change, and caused its own changes.

“It brought men into the supermarket,“ says Emanuela Scarpellini. “Shopping was previously only made by women, but now men entered and took part in this activity.”

One reason for this was that women usually did not drive, and the car was essential as many supermarkets were located outside the city. The supermarkets also had an impact on women’s role in society, both as it provided new jobs for women and helped workingwomen, who could not spend as much time as before on daily shopping.

Today both the supermarket and the mom & pop store co-exist in Italy.

“Today, the supermarkets have more than 50 or 60 percent of sales. They are dominating the market, but the numbers are still lower than for other European countries. There is still an important place for small shops in Italy.”

Half a century has passed since has passed since Italy got its first supermarket. At that time, it filled a need that was deep and sometimes desperate, but still faced resistance on many levels. It won the hearts and minds of the Italians by providing a wide variety of goods at relatively low prices. Back in the 1950’s, one customer was so happy about it that she told Roland Hood, one of the supermarket pioneers, “I have written to my sister in New York and told her to vote for Mr. Rockefeller if he ever runs for Governor again.” Another said “I’m sure God has sent you Americans to do this wonderful thing for us in Italy.” Yet another was overheard saying, “just remember this next time you vote, they don’t have any of these in Russia.” (Emanuela Scarpellini, 2004, p 662)

Whether it saved the country from another revolution is, as most things are in Italy, open for debate.

Hans Sandberg

Monday, September 8, 2008

Republican Dishonesty And A Couple of Cool Clips

The Democratic Convention was great and brimming with hope, while the Republican Convention - once Gustav's (or God's for those of you who are believers...) rage subsided enough to let it start - was a display of deep dishonesty.

There was a moment when I felt that John McCain was playing the foreign policy card so that he could get some elbow room versus the religious right, but now we know that that wasn't the case. McCain does what he does for his own sake. He uses people to get where he wants to get. He doesn't hesitate to lie and cheat, but still claims that we have to believe him because he got shot down over Vietnam. But character is not something that is cut in stone, and especially not an opportunistic character such as McCain's. Republicans often try to make people believe that character is what sets them apart compared to the wishy-washy flip-flopping liberals. But it is a charade intending to hide the fact that the Republican message of "small government" and "tax cuts" would hurt most people. If they focused on the message they wouldn't have a chance, so they focus on the "war hero" instead, and the nobody from nowhere with perfect fundamentalist credentials. 

For an uplifting take on Republican hypocrisy, watch this wonderful piece on the Daily Show!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Swedish-American Business Book

I just published a book about the Swedish-American business world on the Print-On-Demand website  

Click here to see the book on!

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An Unconventional Convention

OK, he is up there, not all that far from Martin Luther King, Jr.  

To get a historic perspective on this campaign, read Robert A. Caro's op-ed piece Johnson’s Dream, Obama’s Speech in New York Times. It's one of the best pieces I've read about this campaign, and there has been many good ones.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Will Karl Rove's Contempt For the Congress Catch Up With Him?

The House Juciciary Committe voted on Wednesday, July 29, to recommend that Karl Rove is cited for contempt of the Congress.

AP writes:
"Voting along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee said that Rove had broke the law by failing to appear at a July 10 hearing on allegations of White House influence over the Justice Department, including whether Rove encouraged prosecutions against Democrats."

The Send Karl Rove To Jail campaign yesterday delivered 127,000 signatures demanding that the House Judiciary Committe take action against Karl Rove.
"I think it's ridiculous that Karl Rove thinks that he doesn't have to follow the law, and nobody in this country should be above the law," said House Judiciary Committee member Linda Sanchez (D-CA) when she received the petition from Brave New Film's Editorial Director ZP Heller.

Watch Brave New Films take on Karl Rove:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Does McCain Know In What Country He Is Running For President?

It's a mean question, and I don't want to pick on him because he is old. There are many old men and women who are smart and vital, but John McCain is not one of them. He may be shrewed, and he has charm, but he doesn't seem clearheaded enough to run anything but his golf cart.

Remember when Joe Lieberman had to wisper in his ear about the Sunni and Shia thing, which McCain had confused when he said that Iran (Shia) was training Al Qaeda (Sunni) fighters? 

Remember when McCain talked about Iraq's border to Pakistan?

And now he is so giddy about the relative calm in Iraq that he ascribes it all to "the surge", which as I'm sure you remember by now, he supported.

But as Ilan Goldenberg writes in today's Huffington Post (my italics):

John McCain made a mistake this evening, which as far as I'm concerned, disqualifies him from being president. It is so appalling and so factually wrong that I'm actually sitting here wondering who McCain's advisers are. This isn't some gaffe where he talks about the Iraq-Pakistan border. It's a real misunderstanding of what has happened in Iraq over the past year. It is even more disturbing because according to John McCain, Iraq is the central front in the "war on terror." If we are going to have an Iraq-centric policy, he should at least understand what he is talking about. But anyway, what happened.

In an interview with CBS news anchor Katie Couric on Tuesday night McCain said:

McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is as -- such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane [phonetic] was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history. Thanks to General Petraeus, our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn't make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed.

Watch the interview here:

But, writes Ilan Goldenberg - echoing Keith Olbermann at MSNBC - there is a slight problem here:

The surge wasn't even announced until a few months after the Anbar Awakening. Via Spencer Ackerman, here is Colonel MacFarland explaining the Anbar Awakening to Pam Hass of UPI, on September 29, 2006. That would be almost four months before the President even announced the surge. Petraeus wasn't even in Iraq yet.

With respect to the violence between the Sunnis and the al Qaeda -- actually, I would disagree with the assessment that the al Qaeda have the upper hand. That was true earlier this year when some of the sheikhs began to step forward and some of the insurgent groups began to fight against al Qaeda. The insurgent groups, the nationalist groups, were pretty well beaten by al Qaeda.

This is a different phenomena that's going on right now. I think that it's not so much the insurgent groups that are fighting al Qaeda, it's the -- well, it used to be the fence-sitters, the tribal leaders, are stepping forward and cooperating with the Iraqi security forces against al Qaeda, and it's had a very different result. I think al Qaeda has been pushed up against the ropes by this, and now they're finding themselves trapped between the coalition and ISF on the one side, and the people on the other.

He also adds a quote from Colin Kahl in Foreign Affairs:

The Awakening began in Anbar Province more than a year before the surge and took off in the summer and fall of 2006 in Ramadi and elsewhere, long before extra U.S. forces started flowing into Iraq in February and March of 2007. Throughout the war, enemy-of-my-enemy logic has driven Sunni decision-making. The Sunnis have seen three "occupiers" as threats: the United States, the Shiites (and their presumed Iranian patrons), and the foreigners and extremists in AQI. Crucial to the Awakening was the reordering of these threats.

Maybe Ol' Bush could spare John McCain a room at the Kennebunkport compound, and the world another president who knows nothing about the world.

Hans Sandberg

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Terrible Stain George W. Bush Left Behind

The madness of the Bush administration yet has to find it's Shakespeare.... Until then we can only keep watching TV and read the papers and blogs, and wait for the day when he is dumped in history's garbage bin.   

So much went wrong during his two periods of power misuse that one feels numb. But we must preserve our ability to feel outrage and spell it out, like Bob Herbert did in his New York Times column today (my italics): 
When the constraints of the law are unlocked by the men and women in suits at the pinnacle of power, terrible things happen in the real world. You end up with detainees being physically and psychologically tormented day after day, month after month, until they beg to be allowed to commit suicide. You have prisoners beaten until they are on the verge of death, or hooked to overhead manacles like something out of the Inquisition, or forced to defecate on themselves, or sexually humiliated, or driven crazy by days on end of sleep deprivation and blinding lights and blaring noises, or water-boarded.

To get a sense of the heights of madness scaled in this anything-goes atmosphere, consider a brainstorming meeting held by military officials at Guantánamo. Ms. Mayer said the meeting was called to come up with ways to crack through the resistance of detainees.

"One source of ideas," she wrote, "was the popular television show ‘24.’ On that show as Ms. Mayer noted, “torture always worked. It saved America on a weekly basis."

Ms. Mayer is Jane Mayer, the author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.

Bob Herbert continues:

Ms. Mayer noted that Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the late historian, believed that “the Bush administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.”

After reflecting on major breakdowns of law that occurred in prior administrations, including the Watergate disaster, Mr. Schlesinger told Ms. Mayer: “No position taken has done more damage to the American reputation in the world — ever.”

Americans still have not come to grips with this disastrous stain on the nation’s soul. It’s important that the whole truth eventually come out, and as many of the wrongs as possible be rectified.

Hans Sandberg

Click here for a review of Mayer's book.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thomas L. Friedman to W: "Mr. Bush, Lead or Leave"

New York Times' columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote a sharp rebuke of President Bush's energy policy, if we are going to call it that. It's well worth reading.

"Two years ago, President Bush declared that America was 'addicted to oil,' and, by gosh, he was going to do something about it. Well, now he has. Now we have the new Bush energy plan: 'Get more addicted to oil.'”

The problem with Bush according to Friedman is that he is acting like a drug pusher struggling with his image, but always pushing his slimy slithery dark dope.

"It’s as if our addict-in-chief is saying to us: 'C’mon guys, you know you want a little more of the good stuff. One more hit, baby. Just one more toke on the ole oil pipe. I promise, next year, we’ll all go straight. I’ll even put a wind turbine on my presidential library. But for now, give me one more pop from that drill, please, baby. Just one more transfusion of that sweet offshore crude.'”

The occasion for Friedman's sarcasm is President Bush's recent attack on the Democratic Party for not allowing the oil companies to drill wherever they want, disregarding environmental concerns. Listen to Bush as quoted by Friedman:

“I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past. Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions. If Congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act.”

Your President has spoken.

Which makes Friedman mad, and righteously so:

"This from a president who for six years resisted any pressure on Detroit to seriously improve mileage standards on its gas guzzlers; this from a president who’s done nothing to encourage conservation; this from a president who has so neutered the Environmental Protection Agency that the head of the E.P.A. today seems to be in a witness-protection program. I bet there aren’t 12 readers of this newspaper who could tell you his name or identify him in a police lineup.

But, most of all, this deadline is from a president who hasn’t lifted a finger to broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year, which could actually impact America’s energy profile right now — unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow — and create good tech jobs to boot."

But wait, it gets better...or worse, if that's possible:

Ever wondered why so little is done to promote alternative energy in the U.S.? There is a very sensible proposal (H.R. 6049, “The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008”) to extend for eight years the investment tax credit for solar energy installations, for one year a wind power production tax credit, as well as a three year extension of tax credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables. "These critical tax credits for renewables are set to expire at the end of this fiscal year and, if they do, it will mean thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars of investments not made," Friedman writes and adds:
"People forget, wind and solar power are here, they work, they can go on your roof tomorrow. What they need now is a big U.S. market where lots of manufacturers have an incentive to install solar panels and wind turbines — because the more they do, the more these technologies would move down the learning curve, become cheaper and be able to compete directly with coal, oil and nuclear, without subsidies."

The only pump that President Bush wants to prime belongs to Big Oil. What else to expect from an oilman without a clue? We're counting the days... and hoping that he doesn't try to pull the trigger on Iran in another miscalculated attempt to "save the world," or at least save the upcoming election for John McCain

Hans Sandberg

Friday, June 13, 2008

Time To Reflect On the Media: Bill Moyer's Speech at the Media Reform Conference

National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, June 7, 2008

More about the conference at

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Blatte United Won New York's Bowery Invitational Cup

(New York) The Swedish expat soccer team Blatte United FC beat Bowery FC 2, 1-0, in the Semi Finals of the Bowery Invitational Cup on Saturday, June 7 in Chinatown. It was a tough match under a scorching sun, but neither team buckled. After a short rest, Blatte United went on to defeat Bowery FC 1 by 3-0, and ultimately winning the Finals.

Marcus Samuelsson scored the goal for Blatted United in the final minutes of the game against Bowery FC 2. Oskar "Mohammed" Tilly shot the first goal against Bowery FC 1, while Medufia ”Keke” Kulego delivered the final two goals.

Watch Snippets From the Game and Blatte United's Victory Celebration!

Keke took a pretty bad fall, but kept fighting after a short break.

Marcus Samuelsson and Keke performs a victory dance.

Blatte United and friends.

Text & Photo: Hans Sandberg

Hillary Clinton Did the Right Thing And America Will Never Be the Same

“I want to take all our energy and all our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama as our next president of the United States,” Hillary Clinton told a roaring crowd at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

She did the right thing, and she saved her place in history. America has changed. George W. Bush's extremism took America to the end of the road where there was no way ahead. America is in a deep crisis, brought on by greed and conservative dogmatism. Now is the time for a new New Deal, and the unifying of the progressive America behind Barack Obama is the key to launching it. 

"We all want to restore America's standing in the world," she said.

This is hope we can believe in.

Hans Sandberg

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bolton's Attack On Obama Also Hits Condoleezza Rice

John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., who was so controversial that George W. Bush had to appoint him during a Senate recess, attacks Barack Obama in today's Los Angeles Times.

If it wasn't for John F. Kennedy's meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna 1961, Soviet Union might not have put his missiles in Cuba the year after, Mr. Bolton writes, "thus precipitating one of the Cold War's most dangerous crises."

He also attacks Obama for having suggested that "Iran, Cuba, Venezuela" are "tiny compared to the Soviet Union" and "don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us." Mr. Bolton can't deny that Obama basically stated a fact, but goes on to "dissect" his comment with the mind of a Cold Warrior.

Don't forget that the "Soviet Union's threat to the West was more than about nukes, he writes. "Subversion, guerrilla warfare, sabotage and propaganda were several of the means by which this struggle was waged, and the stakes were high, even, or perhaps especially, in 'tiny' countries."

After citing Cuba's support for guerillas in El Salvador and Nicaragua and "vigorous Moscow-directed communist parties" in Western Europe who "challenged the democracies on their home turfs" he turns to Italy as if it was still the 1950's:

"Had Italy, for example, gone communist during the 1950s or 1960s, it would have been an inconvenient defeat for the United States but a catastrophe for the people of Italy. An 'asymmetric' threat to the U.S. often is an existential threat to its friends, which was something we never forgot during the Cold War. Obama plainly seems to have entirely missed this crucial point."

The point being that the world is black and white, and anyone suggesting that it has shades is a suspect to Mr. Bolton, who in 1970 decided that the Vietnam War was already a lost cause, something he didn't want to "waste his time on". Black and white can be convenient. It makes it easier to turn away from the nitty-gritty while still feeling good about yourself. Hence Mr. Bolton did what George W. Bush did, that is, he joined the National Guard.

John Bolton is obviously carrying water for John McCain, but he is also selling his new book Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad.

The book was reviewed in the March 6 issue of the New York Review of Books by Brian Urquhart, the former Undersecretary-General of the United Nations. He points out that John Bolton's book reflects "how unhappy he was with the Bush administration's changing approach" as it moderated its most extreme and ideological positions from its first term.

One of the things new things that made Bolton bolt was, according to Urquhart, "the idea that it was important to talk, at least in a limited way, to those perceived as enemies or potential enemies and to make some effort to understand their concerns and their interests began, if intermittently, to gain ground." (Bold talics added by me, H.S.)

Hence, his attack on Obama is also a critique of the Bush's second term, and of Condoleezza Rice's attempt "to take some steps to revive US diplomacy."

The trouble with Bolton, which he shares with Bush is that he sees only what he wants to see. Like senor Don Quixote he is allways ready to mount his Rocinante to take on evil monsters and save his Dulcinea. His heart is good, but his perception of reality is a little bit off, to say the least, making anything else than saber rattling a "naive and dangerous" sign of weakness. Or, as Urquhart summarizes it:

"Bolton and his small band of co-ideologues apparently see themselves as fighting virtually alone against the forces of evil, compromise, and weakness. As far as foreign affairs are concerned, their beliefs seem to be roughly as follows:

  • United States interests alone are to be considered as paramount; the United Nations is only relevant insofar as it serves those interests.
  • Foreigners, even some supposed allies, cannot be trusted, and the hostile ones (North Korea, Iran, the enemies of Israel, and others) will always cheat, will never abide by an agreement, and only understand pressure and force.
  • With such people there should be only sticks and hard words, no carrots, no rewards for good behavior, and no prolonged negotiations. Force always remains an option.
  • The High Minded, Liberals, multilateralists, and most Democrats are, in their own way, almost as destructive as hostile foreigners.
Such views could be regarded merely as colorful and anachronistic eccentricities if they were not voiced by someone who has held important public positions and who is therefore still regarded by many people as an expert. From such a source, they contribute seriously to weakening, not strengthening, the position of the United States in the world. For all John Bolton's undeniable ability and strength of mind, his views and his style are a luxury the United States can no longer afford."

Hans Sandberg

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama Has Spoken - He Is It!

Here is the full text as prepared for Barack Obama's speech in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Tuesday night, June 3rd, 2008. 

Tonight, after fifty-four hard-fought contests, our primary season has finally come to an end.

Sixteen months have passed since we first stood together on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Thousands of miles have been traveled. Millions of voices have been heard. And because of what you said - because you decided that change must come to Washington; because you believed that this year must be different than all the rest; because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears but to your greatest hopes and highest aspirations, tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another - a journey that will bring a new and better day to America. Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

I want to thank every American who stood with us over the course of this campaign - through the good days and the bad; from the snows of Cedar Rapids to the sunshine of Sioux Falls. And tonight I also want to thank the men and woman who took this journey with me as fellow candidates for President.

At this defining moment for our nation, we should be proud that our party put forth one of the most talented, qualified field of individuals ever to run for this office. I have not just competed with them as rivals, I have learned from them as friends, as public servants, and as patriots who love America and are willing to work tirelessly to make this country better. They are leaders of this party, and leaders that America will turn to for years to come.

That is particularly true for the candidate who has traveled further on this journey than anyone else. Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she's a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight.

We've certainly had our differences over the last sixteen months. But as someone who's shared a stage with her many times, I can tell you that what gets Hillary Clinton up in the morning - even in the face of tough odds - is exactly what sent her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago; what sent her to work at the Children's Defense Fund and made her fight for health care as First Lady; what led her to the United States Senate and fueled her barrier-breaking campaign for the presidency - an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be. And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country, she will be central to that victory. When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen. Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There are those who say that this primary has somehow left us weaker and more divided. Well I say that because of this primary, there are millions of Americans who have cast their ballot for the very first time. There are Independents and Republicans who understand that this election isn't just about the party in charge of Washington, it's about the need to change Washington. There are young people, and African-Americans, and Latinos, and women of all ages who have voted in numbers that have broken records and inspired a nation.

All of you chose to support a candidate you believe in deeply. But at the end of the day, we aren't the reason you came out and waited in lines that stretched block after block to make your voice heard. You didn't do that because of me or Senator Clinton or anyone else. You did it because you know in your hearts that at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - we cannot afford to keep doing what we've been doing. We owe our children a better future. We owe our country a better future. And for all those who dream of that future tonight, I say - let us begin the work together. Let us unite in common effort to chart a new course for America.

In just a few short months, the Republican Party will arrive in St. Paul with a very different agenda. They will come here to nominate John McCain, a man who has served this country heroically. I honor that service, and I respect his many accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine. My differences with him are not personal; they are with the policies he has proposed in this campaign.

Because while John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign.

It's not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush ninety-five percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year.

It's not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs, or insure our workers, or help Americans afford the skyrocketing cost of college - policies that have lowered the real incomes of the average American family, widened the gap between Wall Street and Main Street, and left our children with a mountain of debt.

And it's not change when he promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians - a policy where all we look for are reasons to stay in Iraq, while we spend billions of dollars a month on a war that isn't making the American people any safer.

So I'll say this - there are many words to describe John McCain's attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush's policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.

Change is a foreign policy that doesn't begin and end with a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged. I won't stand here and pretend that there are many good options left in Iraq, but what's not an option is leaving our troops in that country for the next hundred years - especially at a time when our military is overstretched, our nation is isolated, and nearly every other threat to America is being ignored.

We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in - but start leaving we must. It's time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their future. It's time to rebuild our military and give our veterans the care they need and the benefits they deserve when they come home. It's time to refocus our efforts on al Qaeda's leadership and Afghanistan, and rally the world against the common threats of the 21st century - terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. That's what change is.

Change is realizing that meeting today's threats requires not just our firepower, but the power of our diplomacy - tough, direct diplomacy where the President of the United States isn't afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for. We must once again have the courage and conviction to lead the free world. That is the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy. That's what the American people want. That's what change is.

Change is building an economy that rewards not just wealth, but the work and workers who created it. It's understanding that the struggles facing working families can't be solved by spending billions of dollars on more tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs, but by giving a the middle-class a tax break, and investing in our crumbling infrastructure, and transforming how we use energy, and improving our schools, and renewing our commitment to science and innovation. It's understanding that fiscal responsibility and shared prosperity can go hand-in-hand, as they did when Bill Clinton was President.

John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy - cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota - he'd understand the kind of change that people are looking for.

Maybe if he went to Iowa and met the student who works the night shift after a full day of class and still can't pay the medical bills for a sister who's ill, he'd understand that she can't afford four more years of a health care plan that only takes care of the healthy and wealthy. She needs us to pass health care plan that guarantees insurance to every American who wants it and brings down premiums for every family who needs it. That's the change we need.

Maybe if he went to Pennsylvania and met the man who lost his job but can't even afford the gas to drive around and look for a new one, he'd understand that we can't afford four more years of our addiction to oil from dictators. That man needs us to pass an energy policy that works with automakers to raise fuel standards, and makes corporations pay for their pollution, and oil companies invest their record profits in a clean energy future - an energy policy that will create millions of new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced. That's the change we need.

And maybe if he spent some time in the schools of South Carolina or St. Paul or where he spoke tonight in New Orleans, he'd understand that we can't afford to leave the money behind for No Child Left Behind; that we owe it to our children to invest in early childhood education; to recruit an army of new teachers and give them better pay and more support; to finally decide that in this global economy, the chance to get a college education should not be a privilege for the wealthy few, but the birthright of every American. That's the change we need in America. That's why I'm running for President.

The other side will come here in September and offer a very different set of policies and positions, and that is a debate I look forward to. It is a debate the American people deserve. But what you don't deserve is another election that's governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won't hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon - that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize. Because we may call ourselves Democrats and Republicans, but we are Americans first. We are always Americans first.

Despite what the good Senator from Arizona said tonight, I have seen people of differing views and opinions find common cause many times during my two decades in public life, and I have brought many together myself. I've walked arm-in-arm with community leaders on the South Side of Chicago and watched tensions fade as black, white, and Latino fought together for good jobs and good schools. I've sat across the table from law enforcement and civil rights advocates to reform a criminal justice system that sent thirteen innocent people to death row. And I've worked with friends in the other party to provide more children with health insurance and more working families with a tax break; to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and ensure that the American people know where their tax dollars are being spent; and to reduce the influence of lobbyists who have all too often set the agenda in Washington.

In our country, I have found that this cooperation happens not because we agree on everything, but because behind all the labels and false divisions and categories that define us; beyond all the petty bickering and point-scoring in Washington, Americans are a decent, generous, compassionate people, united by common challenges and common hopes. And every so often, there are moments which call on that fundamental goodness to make this country great again.

So it was for that band of patriots who declared in a Philadelphia hall the formation of a more perfect union; and for all those who gave on the fields of Gettysburg and Antietam their last full measure of devotion to save that same union.

So it was for the Greatest Generation that conquered fear itself, and liberated a continent from tyranny, and made this country home to untold opportunity and prosperity.

So it was for the workers who stood out on the picket lines; the women who shattered glass ceilings; the children who braved a Selma bridge for freedom's cause.

So it has been for every generation that faced down the greatest challenges and the most improbable odds to leave their children a world that's better, and kinder, and more just.

And so it must be for us.

America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love.

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment - this was the time - when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.