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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Observing Sweden – More on Migration

Sweden’s Migrant Crisis: From National Minority to Not-So-Silent Majority
The all-European migrant crisis has left Sweden, renowned for its particularly lenient immigration policy, riddled with numerous “no-go zones,” which, have been growing since the 1990s. To say that Swedes are not welcome in these predominantly non-white “alienation zones” would be an understatement.

© Flickr/ Ninα  All Crime, No Punishment: Welfare-Friendly Sweden Gripped by Urban Ghetto Violence
 While American ghettos have become progressively safer since the early 1990’s and in some cases witnessed gentrification, many of Sweden‘s blighted areas are not even safe to visit. As early as last year, Swedish police released a report identifying 55 areas that were particularly affected by organized crime. The majority of these “exclusion areas” lie on the outskirts of metropolitan areas. One of the particularly nefarious ones is Seved, situated only steps away from Malmö’s bustling city center. Malmö is often touted as Sweden’s most multicultural city: over half of the population has a foreign background, according to various estimates. In 2011, people from 174 countries were represented in Malmö, where 150 languages are spoken.

However, the city’s district of Seved has recurrently made headlines and has become synonymous with gangland crime and violence. In 2014, the postal company PostNord stopped delivering large packages to five streets in Seved, because of threats and violence, newspaper Skånska Dagbladet reported. In 2015, the municipality failed to conduct property renovations in full as planned, as security companies received death threats from gangs running drugs in the area, according to Skånska Dagbladet.

Property owner Fredrik Malmberg claims that numerous tenants were forced to terminate their contracts because of harassment and threats. Malmberg admits to having received death threats for ousting unauthorized people from his premises.
“As long as you let them call the shots, they let you be. Otherwise, they become violent, no matter what background you’re from. However, they are much tougher on the original Swedes. They do not want any Swedes in the area. They want a ghetto, where they are kings. I do not believe that the authorities even dare to talk about it,” Malmberg told the tabloid newspaper Expressen.

© Sepi V  Still Swedish Waters Run Deep: Swedish Financing of Terrorism Increases
Verbal abuse is the least a person with a Nordic appearance can get in this area. The word “Swede” itself has become a slur.
“What I noticed first, was that they never attack people from the Middle East. On the contrary, they were meanest against ethnic Swedes,” an ethnic Serbian who has since moved away from Malmö told Expressen.

Today, there are several areas in Sweden that resemble Seved. All of them are socially vulnerable districts where gang crime and drug use flourish, and where locals harbor contempt for society, public utilities and the authorities, be it police, paramedics or firefighters, as long as they are Swedish.

© Sputnik/ Valery Melnikov
Swedish Government Accepts Daesh Killings, Opposition Cries Blue Murder
 It is little wonder that these environments also function as a hotbed of extremism, providing terrorist groups with “manpower,” willing to fight the foundations of the Western society. Last year alone, over 300 Swedish-born extremists are estimated to have left the country to fight in conflict areas in the Middle East, making Sweden the second largest per capita exporter of terrorism in the European Union, topped by only Belgium.

Unsurprisingly, 23-year-old jihadist Osama Krayem, who was arrested on suspicion of being an accomplice to terrorist acts in Paris and Brussels, belonged to one of the Seved gangs. Earlier, he had strong links with armed thugs who harassed the neighborhood by smashing windows until the residents were forced to acquire bullet-proof glass, police spokesperson Sigrun Hilmarsdottir Sigurdsson confirmed.

No good deed will go unpunished.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Observing Sweden – Teaching

Observing Sweden – Teaching

Teaching in Sweden – Sounds Familiar

Excerpt from The
Why Sweden’s teachers have no time for their students.

Teachers in Sweden are drowning in paperwork and have insufficient time to properly plan lessons, a new report suggests.
In a survey carried out by the Swedish teaching union, Lärarförbundet, almost nine out of ten primary school teachers answered that their workload is too high, with administrative tasks eating up valuable teaching time.
Of the eight hundred primary school teachers that responded to the survey, 86 percent said they had too much work, with form-filling cited as one of the duties that was most time-consuming. By contrast, only 14 percent said they felt their workload was right.
The complaints come despite efforts from the Swedish government to reduce the amount of time teachers spend on administration, and there are even signs that the opposite has occurred. Seven out of ten teachers questioned answered “no” when asked if their workload had decreased in some way in the last year, while 63 percent said they actually spend more time on administrative tasks than before.
“The government has taken steps, but what we see is that things are ballooning in the opposite direction instead,” Swedish teaching union president Johanna Jaara Åstrand told news agency TT.
“Teachers say that there is an inordinate amount of reporting in various computer systems. In many areas that’s down to local requirements that are not necessary according to national directives,” she added.
The survey suggests that form-filling is having an impact on how Sweden’s teachers plan their lessons, with eight out of ten saying they do not have time to plan and develop teaching of pupils in a satisfactory manner. As a result, the profession’s union have called for school principles to hire extra staff to help share the burden.
In response, Sweden’s Education Minister Gustav Fridolin has highlighted the allocation of another 800 million kronor ($96,326) annually to funds that municipalities can draw from and use to hire extra primary school personnel.
“With more specialist teachers and more teaching assistants there were will be more time for teachers to engage in their jobs,” he told TT. “The teaching profession should be a creative one where there is time for each student.”
The complaints from Sweden’s teachers come at a difficult time for the country’s education system. A Unicef report published in April showed that Sweden, along with neighboring Finland, is the country where school results declined the most between 2006 and 2012.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Knives of the Round Table


In May of 1637, Cardinal Richelieu of France invented the table knife. Distinguished by its rounded tip the Cardinal ordered his kitchen staff to file off the sharp points on all the knives to improve his guests’ table manners. It was common at the time to stab meat, eating it off the knife, and to pick ones teeth with the instrument after the meal. This also had the side effect of making dinner a much less dangerous affair, and in 1669 King Louis XIV banned all pointy knives at the table and on the streets of France.
It is currently illegal to carry a pointy knife in Sweden.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Life on Earth – Part 5

Life on Earth

Excerpt taken from New York Magazine
Andrew Sullivan

Plato, of course, was not clairvoyant. His analysis of how democracy can turn into tyranny is a complex one more keyed toward ancient societies than our own (and contains more wrinkles and eddies than I can summarize here). His disdain for democratic life was fueled in no small part by the fact that a democracy had executed his mentor, Socrates. And he would, I think, have been astonished at how American democracy has been able to thrive with unprecedented stability over the last couple of centuries even as it has brought more and more people into its embrace. It remains, in my view, a miracle of constitutional craftsmanship and cultural resilience. There is no place I would rather live. But it is not immortal, nor should we assume it is immune to the forces that have endangered democracy so many times in human history.

Part of American democracy’s stability is owed to the fact that the Founding Fathers had read their Plato. To guard our democracy from the tyranny of the majority and the passions of the mob, they constructed large, hefty barriers between the popular will and the exercise of power. Voting rights were tightly circumscribed. The president and vice-president were not to be popularly elected but selected by an Electoral College, whose representatives were selected by the various states, often through state legislatures. The Senate’s structure (with two members from every state) was designed to temper the power of the more populous states, and its term of office (six years, compared with two for the House) was designed to cool and restrain temporary populist passions. The Supreme Court, picked by the president and confirmed by the Senate, was the final bulwark against any democratic furies that might percolate up from the House and threaten the Constitution. This separation of powers was designed precisely to create sturdy firewalls against democratic wildfires.

Over the centuries, however, many of these undemocratic rules have been weakened or abolished. The franchise has been extended far beyond propertied white men. The presidency is now effectively elected through popular vote, with the Electoral College almost always reflecting the national democratic will. And these formal democratic advances were accompanied by informal ones, as the culture of democracy slowly took deeper root. For a very long time, only the elites of the political parties came to select their candidates at their quadrennial conventions, with the vote largely restricted to party officials from the various states (and often decided in, yes, smoke-filled rooms in large hotel suites). Beginning in the early 1900s, however, the parties began experimenting with primaries, and after the chaos of the 1968 Democratic convention, today’s far more democratic system became the norm.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Life on Earth - Part 4

Life on Earth

Excerpt taken from New York Magazine
Andrew Sullivan
And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the non judgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

And so, as I chitchatted over cocktails at a Washington office Christmas party in December, and saw, looming above our heads, the pulsating, angry televised face of Donald Trump on Fox News, I couldn’t help but feel a little nausea permeate my stomach. And as I watched frenzied Trump rallies on C-SPAN in the spring, and saw him lay waste to far more qualified political peers in the debates by simply calling them names, the nausea turned to dread. And when he seemed to condone physical violence as a response to political disagreement, alarm bells started to ring in my head. Plato had planted a gnawing worry in my mind a few decades ago about the intrinsic danger of late-democratic life. It was increasingly hard not to see in Plato’s vision a murky reflection of our own hyperdemocratic times and in Trump a demagogic, tyrannical character plucked directly out of one of the first books about politics ever written.

Could it be that the Donald has emerged from the populist circuses of pro wrestling and New York City tabloids, via reality television and Twitter, to prove not just Plato but also James Madison right, that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention … and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”? Is he testing democracy’s singular weakness — its susceptibility to the demagogue — by blasting through the firewalls we once had in place to prevent such a person from seizing power? Or am I overreacting?

Perhaps. The nausea comes and goes, and there have been days when the news algorithm has actually reassured me that “peak Trump” has arrived. But it hasn’t gone away, and neither has Trump. In the wake of his most recent primary triumphs, at a time when he is perilously close to winning enough delegates to grab the Republican nomination outright, I think we must confront this dread and be clear about what this election has already revealed about the fragility of our way of life and the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself.

Life on Earth - Part 3

Life on Earth – Part 3

Life on Earth 
America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny

Democracies end when they are too democratic. And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny.

As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

This rainbow-flag polity, Plato argues, is, for many people, the fairest of regimes. The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher … is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen.
Part 4 – Tomorrow

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Life On Earth - Part 2

Life on Earth

Life on Earth
The apparitions pass as vision
through a prismed glass
from which we drink
never knowing that which comes next
for forever and a day
until that final recognition
bitter sweet

Until then we are entertained
watching the show
bemused and titillated
with a modest paranoia
first sign of awareness
how has all this come to pass
what’s going on
so obvious we are afraid to look
perhaps too late to understand
the players
kings and queens  who’ve shrugged the weight of crowns
adorned with yachts and helicopters
wealth beyond imagination.

Politics American
games played by millionaires
we look without much choice
beyond diversions given
divert attention
while they  pick our pockets
clean out anything that’s left
whatever freedoms
savings, property or promises as yet not repossessed.