Childish Senator Kerry

There is nothing new about the notion that politicians sometimes seem to live in a world of their own, with little sense of what is important and what is not. Given that they are human, and that we all tend to think that whatever it is we are involved in matters more than it actually does, perhaps that is understandable. Still, one would still like to think that sometimes they could take a step back and see how silly they are. Especially since being silly can have rather bad consequences when your decisions can affect everybody in the country.

Stepping back, however, does not seem to be Senator Kerry’s strongest point. Still bitter from losing the 2004 elections he now feels the need to demonstrate his anger at every chance he gets. It does not matter what the issue is, it seems, or whether his campaign and its opponents has any relevance — if somebody opposed him then they will have to answer for it.

This can easily become silly and more than a little annoying. Very much so when it comes to the appointment of a man named Sam Fox as the U.S. ambassador to Belgium. This man apparently gave some money to the Swift Boat Veterans, and to Senator Kerry this is highly relevant for his appropriateness. OpinionJournal describes the situation:

After some desultory questioning about “the image of America in Europe,” Mr. Kerry solicited Mr. Fox’s opinions as to “the politics of personal destruction”–to which Mr. Fox replied, “Senator, you’re a hero.” Not good enough. Mr. Kerry launched into a harangue about 527 committees (the Swift Boaters were one of those) and other affronts to his station in life, none of which were germane to Mr. Fox’s qualifications to serve.

I don’t know anything about Mr Fox, and it will hardly doom the world if he is not appointed, but it would be nice if we could get rid of these childish demonstrations, and instead have the politicians seriously consider the many important matters at hand. Who knows, maybe the voters would appreciate that.


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French law limits citizen journalism

IDG reports that the French Constitutional Assembly has decided that a law that prohibits citizens that are not professional journalists from publishing videos containing violence is constitutional. The law was proposed by interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also the presidential candidate for the centre-right.

With the law enacted a person videotaping a violent situation that the regular media does not report on, and who then publishes the video on Youtube (or somewhere else) risk spending 5 years behind bars, and being fined almost $100 000. That’s pretty hefty for trying to use your freedom of expression.

This is another worrying development, limiting what people can say. I hope this poison will not spread outside of France.


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George H.W. Bush

(A Swedish version of this text can be found here)

Not long ago former Mexican president Vicente Fox visited the University of Oklahoma. Last week Al Gore was here to talk about his science fiction movie (I was occupied with other things though, and could not attend), and yesterday former U.S. president George H.W. Bush was here along with historian and author David McCullogh for a discussion on the American presidency.

The first thing one notices about President Bush is how pleasant and friendly he is. He is comfortable and relaxed, and his humour is warm and friendly, and surprisingly funny. The former president told stories of growing up in a family well off during the tough years of the Great Depression, and he also told a little of his time as a pilot fighting in the Pacific during World War 2. The young George Bush, then only 19 years old, flew 58 combat mission and was shot down once, only to be rescued by an American sub-marine.

Coming back from the war President Bush went to Yale where he not only studied but also became captain of the successful baseball team. It seems though, that the college years were not the years that shaped him. He spent more time talking about his earlier years — he met his wife of 62 years in high school — and the values impressed upon him by his parents.

The discussion was of a rather personal nature, leaving political issues mainly to the side. President Bush talked about handling the 24 hour a day news media, often critising every move — something his son, the current president, certainly has had to deal with to an even larger extent. He also talked about the hurt he felt losing the election in 1992 to Bill Clinton; hurt to a large extent rising from not being able to prove the media and pollsters wrong, but also from a feeling of not having finished the job. Adversity, President Bush says, is best dealt with with humour and trying to be kind to one’s opponents.

The former president also talked a bit about diplomacy. He was the U.S. ambassador to both the United Nations and China before becoming Vice President under Ronald Reagan, and his main insight is the importance of personal diplomacy, and of building trustful relationships also with those that one has very little in common with. He did however point out that when it comes to matters of war and peace, the United Nations is not a good place to get things done. Obviously so, one might think, but it is worth pointing out every now and then.

Overall it was a pleasant discussion, though perhaps not one providing many new insights, but rather a chance to get a sense of the personality of the former president. He seems to be a friendly man, more than anything else — perhaps not the most common trait among top politicians.


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Iraqi oil law

The Iraqi Council of Ministers have now been able to agree upon a draft of a law that determines how the important oil revenues will be shared among the regions. This is a huge step forward, and one that will substantially further a mood of cooperation. It will still have to be approved by the Council of Representatives, currently in recess, but given that the major actors are all on board that seems likely to happen.

The current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, provides his thoughts on the law here.


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Wall of China

Gudmundson (Swedish) writes about this website — The Great Firewall of China — on which one can see which websites the Chinese government has decided are too dangerous to allow their citizens to read. So far, my own blog is still allowed.

That the Internet makes it difficult for dictatorships to prevent people from finding information about what is going on in the outside world is one of the better developements of today. Especially since even people in dictatorships are getting richer, making technology more accessible to them.

What this loss of information monopoly will mean for the totalitarian governments in the world is hard to predict. With all the talk about how well things are going in China, it is also good to be reminded of what kind of country it is every now an then.


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12 444 kronor

Denna morgon tycks det finnas ovanligt bra debattartiklar att läsa. Inte nog med att Carl Bildt skriver bra och insiktsfullt om Irak hos Dagens Nyheter (min kommentar finns att läsa här); utöver det skriver Timbrochefen Maria Rankka och nationalekonomen Dick Kling i Expressen om den intressanta idén att dela ut statens budgetöverskott till medborgarna. Rakt av, i form av en check.

Anders Borg kommer säkert att tala om för oss att det går bra för Sverige. Staten kommer, i sin budget för i år, att ha ett överskott på 112 miljarder kronor. Det är mycket pengar, särskilt som statsskulden redan är låg och sjunkande. Framför allt är det 112 miljarder kronor som vi skattebetalare betalat in utöver den stora mängd staten redan spenderar. Det är ett hyggligt antal timmar som vi arbetat utan att få skörda frukterna, och där det gemensamma inte ens har funnit något att lägga dem på (för vårt bästa, så klart…). Det är en kraftfull, intuitivt moraliskt riktig, och ytterst intressant tanke som de båda artikelförfattarna framför i Expressenartikeln. Ta de 112 miljarderna och ge tillbaka dem till medborgarna. 12 444 kronor vardera, som onekligen skulle sitta bra i mångas fickor. Extra värdefullt vore det i ett land som Sverige där de privata besparingarna är minimala. Möjligheten att bygga upp en buffert — en liten förmögenhet att kunna falla tillbaka på — är närmast obefintlig för de allra flesta, med vår höga beskattningsnivå.

En sådan buffert är inte bara bra för att den hjälper till när det går dåligt. Den ger också betydande frihet. Frihet att kunna säga upp sig från ett jobb man vantrivs med, för att ta sig tid att hitta något annat. Frihet att kunna göra den där resan man längtat efter i flera år. Frihet att starta upp ett projekt när man slås av en god idé. Frihet från oro över vad som skall ske när det blir sämre tider. Det är friheter som inte skall föraktas, och som svenskar saknar i betydligt högre utsträckning än länderna i vår närhet.

Det pedagogiska värdet av artikeln, kopplingen mellan pengarna staten kan använda sig av och pengarna vi medborgare arbetar ihop, är stort. Den ger uttryck för en moralisk känsla som jag tror att många känner, men sällan får tillfälle att upptäcka. Och förslaget är intressant i sig själv. Rankka och Kling bör applåderas.


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