Our tribal war of whatabouts and hypocrisy

Franklin D. Rooosevelt gave a speech in 1942 that became a source of inspiration to Norwegians fighting the German occupation. The occasion was a handover ceremony of a ship to the Norwegian Navy. This is a well known quote:

If there is anyone who still wonders why this war is being fought, let him look to Norway. If there is anyone who has any delusions that this war could have been averted, let him look to Norway; and if there is anyone who doubts the democratic will to win, again I say, let him look to Norway.

Roosevelt praised the Norwegian resistance on several occasions, which may have been a response to an impression made by an American journalist that happened to be in Oslo the day the Nazis marched down the main street. He described shocked bystanders, but he was wrong to interpret this as indifference and acceptance. The Norwegian politicians may have been naive believing they could remain neutral, but there is no doubt about the willingness to fight, and there were a lot of unsung heroes all over the country, as well cooperation with Britain and the USA. The phrase look to Norway has had a nice ring to it ever since, but it’s just a distant memory now.

There seems to be a negative version today aimed at one of our neighbours. Look to Russia seems to be the slogan today. If it’s bad you can be sure Russia did it. No investigation or journalism is needed. We already know the truth. I noticed a comment on Facebook today where someone referred to an opponent’s argument as whataboutism. This is supposedly old Soviet tactics, and now Trump’s solution, which to many people is the same. It’s an attempt to discredit the opponent or to derail the discussion. If for example the USA accuses Russia of violating civil rights Putin could respond with multiple whatabouts from the USA. My own country likes to talk about how Russia and China violate human rights while the UN say we do the same, especially with regard to the prisoners and children’s rights.

Photo of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton before election.
What about Hillary’s support of Bill?

We may conveniently pretend that whataboutism is a Soviet trick, and thus confirm the Trump-Russia connexion, but this is very old, probably as old as humankind. It starts in kindergarten, and these days politicians from both US parties can say what about Bill Clinton? The problem with moral indignation is that most people or the country they represent have done the same thing in the past, if not in the present as well. When we watch news coverage from a demonstration in a foreign country we don’t like, and the police break up the crowd with tear gas or water, we frequently say that only a totalitarian state would do that. A demonstration isn’t necessarily about creating chaos, but it is usually about change and using your democratic right to be heard in a society that wants to limit the people’s influence. So what about Ferguson, Paris, Belgium, London, Catalan, Australia and other countries?

Whataboutism was a new term to me, but it sounds very familiar. I wrote about the Hitler card or reduction to Hitler a while back, which means that sooner or later someone is going to compare someone else to Hitler. It happens in a lot of debates. They are both old rhetorical tricks and should be ignored without going into an argument where you defend yourself. It’s interesting how quickly we develop a moral indignation when we can point to someone else. It may feel amusing when China, Israel, Russia, North Korea or a number of Muslim countries point to our lack of democracy or respect for human life, but we don’t have any reason to feel superior. I guess this worked a long time ago, but Internet put a stop to it. Media did ocassionally intervene before that too. What about the Vietnam War and Watergate? What about Kissinger and the Russians? What about Kennedy and the Russians? What about most of Europe and eugenics before and after Hitler? What about most Western countries and the indigenous population?

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The back side of climate change

Photo from my fridge. I buy imported, but locally produced Chinese cabbage and Asterix potatoes cost less.
I buy imported, but locally produced Chinese cabbage and Asterix potatoes cost less.

Most people are extreme creatures of habit. I get daily reminders of that from one of my Facebook groups. My wife is American, and we are both members of a group for Americans in Norway and their partners. One of the services they provide is to tell other members where they have found American products, and to show the packages their families have sent from the old country. There is something many nationalities have in common. They want the brands they are used to, and an equivalent will never be quite the same.

What would you say if you could no longer get the products you were familiar with? When international media report on Norway it’s frequently on something embarrassing, like that time we ran out of butter in December. That happened in 2011 and the world was lead to believe that the authorities had a riot on their hands. I guess some may have been afraid they had to bake for Christmas with margarine, but this drama was mostly just dramatic headlines. There was still margarine and butter imported from Sweden, Netherlands and France, so there really wasn’t a crisis. Incidentally, there was a European “butter crisis” last summer, especially in France, but no one wanted to import from Norway then.

Norway usually don’t import oats because we produce enough ourselves, but this year my country has to import 5 000 tons. There is also a concern that the stores will run out of potatoes, carrots and onions, partly because the farmers have produced less and partly because the quality is worse. This is all because it’s been an unusually wet summer and autumn, which is a bad sign in the long run. The researchers have been telling us for decades that a milder climate will mean more rain during the winter, and more extreme rain in summer. This will change food production.

There will still be fruit and vegetables in Norwegian stores, but they may not be produced in Norway. Being somewhat skeptical to eating food that will make me sick I am naturally interested in where the food is produced and what they put into it. As for GMO there is plenty of research indicating that the health effect could differ from what the consumers aim for, to say the least. It’s more than just a habit, but I am like most people, I choose what I grew up with. That’s why breakfast cereal to me is oatmeal from Axa and not Quaker.

How about you? Would you hesitate if you knew that the meat and lettuce on your burger came from Namibia and China?

Americans are not welcome

Donald Duck mug. One of the last survivors of a childhood with American influence. I'm afraid I lost my Fozzie Bear mug.
One of the last survivors of a childhood with American influence. I’m afraid I lost my Fozzie Bear mug.

I mentioned in my previous post, The attack on America, that no one wants to think badly about their own country. I am no different than other people. I wanted to think that Norway was as perfect as some of the articles in foreign newspapers suggest. The perfect society doesn’t exist, not if there are people in it.

It’s not that the Scandinavian countries are horrible, because they are not, but they are not easy countries to live in. Business Insider wrote about a recent study where expats rank the Nordic countries among the best for excellent healthcare, childcare and education. They also like the balance between work and having enough time to spend with family. There are a lot of good things about being an expat in the Nordic countries, but there is also a dark side.

It’s hard to make friends here. I am sure that many have acquaintances, but it’s hard to find true friendship. That may surprise a lot of people. After all, people in Norway and its neighbouring countries dress the same way as Americans and Brits. They listen to the same music, watch the same films, play the same games, eat the same type of food, and our societies have been shaped by the same religions and philosophers. On the surface it looks like we have a lot in common, like we should be alike, but it is pretty obvious that we are not. I can only speak for Norway and there is a tendency here to like foreigners, including people from our old allies USA and Britain, as long as they agree with us. I didn’t know this about us before I got married, so I didn’t know anything about the difficulties ahead. I didn’t know we would be on constant probation, but that’s how it feels like. It’s not something just immigrants experience. Being different is bad here and the pressure to blend in, become invisible is pretty strong.

I stated in my previous post that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in Norway, but people thinking about moving here should know that there are deeper issues involved than figuring out where to get their supply of Pop tarts, Twinkies, Ding Dong chocolate cake and cereals. You can find a lot of American products in the stores, but there are also many things you have to manage without. Living here is worth the effort, but it shouldn’t be a job. It is for many immigrants. Norwegians tend to see them as aliens if there is something different about them, like an accent.

The Nordic countries are the worst in the world for making friends

The attack on America

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The cover of a Norwegian newspaper the day of the election. They both vowed to make America great again. Who would be included in this America?
The cover of a Norwegian newspaper the day of the election. They both vowed to make America great again. Who would be included in this America?

I have criticised the U.S. government when I feel that it is justified, as I have my own government. I criticise Norway more, but I don’t think I am anti-American or anti-Norwegian, as some wrongly label it. This is what democracy is about, and it would be something entirely different if voicing an opinion was wrong. The alternative is to never question the decisions the politicians make on our behalf, which is hardly likely to produce a healthy democracy.

Criticising the USA is a popular sport, which is understandable. Decisions made in Washington DC will have consequences for the whole world, both good and bad. It is possible to go too far, though, or to focus on the wrong issues. I recently came across Benny Lewis’ post 17 cultural clashes this European had in America, and by America he doesn’t mean everything between Alaska and Chile (+ a few island north and south of the continent). He means the USA of course, and that’s where he scores one of his minor points. America is more, or as comedian Judah Friedlander puts it in a Netflix special: America is the greatest country in the USA.

I’m not going through the whole list, but would like to comment a few. I encourage you to read the rant yourself. The third complaint on his list is that smiles mean nothing. Americans smile all the time, according to this Irishman, so you never know when they mean it. I don’t know what kind of Americans he has encountered, but it’s probably not that simple. I have almost 50 years of experience being a Norwegian in Norway, and during the 15 years I have lived here with my African-American wife I have seen a lot of smiles, as well as backstabbing. Smiles don’t mean more here than anywhere else, and I probably wouldn’t find more genuine smiles in Lewis’ Ireland either.

His next point is tipping, and I agree that employers should pay higher wages, but when the food is relatively inexpensive I don’t think most people mind giving a little extra. There is not a strong tipping culture in Europe, which makes it confusing, because knowing when it is expected is almost impossible, but Tripadvisor recommends 10 percent in Benny Lewis’ home-country Ireland. Incidentally, this is such a big problem in neighbouring Britain that the government there published a report last year saying that tips should go to workers, not employers. In other words, that hasn’t been obvious to business owners. Is that ok?

The whiny Irish has some points about wasteful consumerism, stereotypes of other countries, always in a hurry, obsessed with money, and thinking America is the best, but are the Americans really the only ones doing this? We all have the inclination to whine. We just whine about different things. Besides, it’s not fair to generalise. There are undoubtedly Americans believing that the military is justified in taking any action, or refuse to act, if that is required to keep America ahead. There are probably a few that would never leave the USA because any other country would be inferior, but I don’t think all 320 + millions of them feel the same.

Besides, we all have some of this attitude. Canadians, Germans, Italians, French, Danes, Japanese and others all believe they live in the best country in the world. They may not be completely satisfied, but when they compare themselves to other countries they probably conclude that life is pretty good. I think my own country has enough bonuses. There are many things I don’t like about Norway, and some of them I only discovered after I got married (there are a lot of smiles that don’t mean anything). The pressure to conform can sometimes be too much for example, but all in all it’s not a bad place.

That doesn’t mean I am not critical, but the goal should be to improve society. I am critical to the naive attitude many seem to have that we should allow unlimited immigration, but the truth is that if too many of the immigrants are refugees, there is a risk there won’t be enough people working. I think people with some sense agree on the main issues, but people are also sensitive to outside criticism. The Swedes don’t like it when we criticise them and we certainly don’t like it when they lecture us on the issues they have so thorughly failed on themselves. The French and British don’t like it when they target each other’s arrogance, and Americans don’t like any European telling them what to do.

Incidentally, you want to avoid using words like anti-American or anti-Norwegian. As Noam Comsky pointed out many years ago the term has been used against dissidents in the old Soviet Union. It basically means that you support democracy. It’s interesting that someone criticising the government is labelled with words used by a dictatorship, and asked to leave the country. That is one of the attitudes one might criticise both America (all of it) and Europe (especially the EU) for. Whether people make sense or irritate me isn’t quite as important as politicians playing a poker game with our lives as the stake.

The Race

There is a race, a fierce competition. Everyone wants to be popular. Everyone wants to be best at something, right? There are a lot of different surveys with different criteria and winners. The Scandinavian countries usually do well when the UN rank the best countries to live in. They also do well on the Social Progress Index, with Canada, New Zealand and Australia being the only non-Europeans on the top ten list. Read more

The U.S. News and World Report named Canada the 2nd best country together with Switzerland. These countries,  together with Scandinavia, are also favourites among stand up comedians and journalists wanting to score cheap points against what they claim are selfish countries. When the so-called Syrian refugee crisis started there was a big pressure on the Norwegian government to allow free immigration. The attitude was that this wouldn’t cost us anything because the Syrians would start working as soon as they arrived. It turned out that around 40 percent were Syrians, so there were a lot of migrants from other countries. Not that they didn’t need help, but unlimited immigration is a pretty tall order.

No one seemed to consider the fact that refugees have never changed status that quickly before, and there was no way of verifying the claim that these were highly educated people. That turned out to be vastly exaggerated. No one ever mentioned the fact that refugees may need psychiatric treatment, or that they may have problems becoming a part of a society with a strong aversion to religion (almost self-loathing our own culture), and with a strong suspicion to everything different. In fact, we only talked about them helping us, our economy.

Canada seems to have chosen the same path as Sweden, an extremely liberal immigration policy. In Canada’s case it is understandable because the country is underpopulated, but I believe it’s not just a matter of getting enough people. There are suburbs in Sweden with 90 percent immigrant population, very high unemployment, and it’s so bad in certain areas that police and ambulance are reluctant to go there. Yet, the only accepted view is that immigrants make Sweden a better society. I think the main problem is that the government decided something and left it to the people to deal with the consequences.

The Canadian government recently announced a plan for increasing immigration. The authorities will admit 310 000 permanent residents next year, followed by 330 000 in 2019 and 340 000 in 2020. The idea is that this will spur innovation and economic growth, and by importing young workers they counteract the problem with an aging population. I believe there are good chances of that happening if you get the right people, but there is a limit to how altruistic you can be and still prosper. The news release states that “the 2018-2020 multi-year immigration levels plan also fulfills our commitment to offer protection to those in need.” Read the news release.

I don’t know how many asylum seekers they intend to accept, but I believe there needs to be a balance. Statistics from Norway show that the employment rate among immigrants from Asia and Africa is a lot lower compared to any other group in Norway. The logical consequence is that these people need different types of social benefits, possibly for life. We have to help, but there is a limit to how many we can support in our own country. It might help if we don’t create more problems in their country.

There are of course refugees and migrants that will adapt quickly, but some are going to require assistance for years, possibly for the rest of their lives. We would all like to believe that racism doesn’t exist in our society, that we are far too liberal for that nonsense, but in reality Norwegians, Swedes, Swiss and Canadians are no different from people that admit to being racist. The attitude among many Norwegian employers is that it doesn’t matter how qualified the candidate is if he/she has the wrong skin colour. It may not even be about ethnicity or religion because I have heard many stories of people from the USA and other English speaking countries that suddenly get called in for job interviews when they start using their Norwegian partner’s name. Yet, the only accepted view is that immigrants have enriched the country in so many ways. I have a feeling that this is the case in many liberal countries.

This Canadian is defending the book The Inconvenient Indian, and it suggests that there is already a problem in the country that wants to accept everyone:

I am in no way out to get Canada.This is my favourite country outside my own. It’s a fantasy of course, a world that doesn’t exist, and never did, but Canada has always had a special ring to me. I grew up with excellent TV series and music from Canada, as well as writers like Margaret Atwood and :Lucy Maud Montgomery, so when I dream of moving to another country, I dream of Canada. I don’t think anything is perfect, though, but maybe it will be less so in the future.

This is still fixable. I think everyone agrees that we need immigration because of our low birth rate. The problems starts when authorities make decisions without listening to the people, and I don’t think most people want more immigration than their society can integrate. It doesn’t mean that immigrants are not welcome.

Reduction to Hitler

Sylvi Listhaug is the Norwegian Minister of Migration and Integration, aka Qusling, Hitler and Norway's Trump.
Sylvi Listhaug is the Norwegian Minister of Migration and Integration, aka Qusling, Hitler and Norway’s Trump.
Foto: Olav Heggø, Foto VIsjon

Godwin’s law was coined by the US attorney Mike Godwin in 1990. It states that an online discussion will, if it lasts long enough, result in someone comparing someone else to Hitler or his deeds. The end result of such a discussion is referred to as reduction to Hitler, or playing the Nazi card. It’s a way to derail arguments or stop someone from arguing with you. It may work because no one wants to be regarded as Hitler’s equal. I think it’s also an indication of desperation. It’s an inadequate rhetorical trick indicating that your arguments are weak. Besides, if you compare someone to Hitler you have to make sure you really know history well. I don’t think you do if you equate Donald Trump to Hitler.

There was a Neo-Nazi march in the Norwegian town Kristiansand a few weeks ago. They had planned to march in Fredrikstad, but moved the event on short notice. Many wanted to deny them the right to express their hatred in Kristiansand as well, and maybe we should silence extremist views in a democracy, but I think the response was blown out of proportions. Don’t get me wrong, I believe these Nazis should be met with strong condemnation, and we should all tell these few individuals what we think about them, but don’t pretend that this popped up from nowhere. This dominated the news and blogosphere for days, but I wonder how big this really was. This was presented as a march for Neo-Nazis from all the Nordic countries, a region with 27 million people, but they only managed to gather 60 people. They want attention, so why do media keep giving them what they want?

Then there was Charlottesville, and in both places people seemed shocked, as if this was totally unexpected. How could this happen in America? This country was based on, or at least supposed to be based on, the best physical and intellectual architecture the Western civilization could produce. It was supposed to ensure free thinking and not the state controlled (by king or church) regimes of Europe. Things went horribly wrong with slavery and what was probably the worst civil war in any country.

The beautiful idea America was inspired other people, including my own. Norway’s Constitution from 1814 was inspired by different documents, but perhaps most of all the revolutionary US Deceleration of Independence from 1776. Not that any of the documents were perfect, but what followed was a lot less so. I don’t recall enough US history to pinpoint exactly when things went wrong, but I am pretty sure it was a long time before Donald Trump. From being a refuge for Catholics, Quakers, Jews and many others that were persecuted in Europe, America became a country that raped, tortured, sold and murdered people. It was no longer the house the architects designed. Some like to think that it was, that the haters went away. They didn’t!

There has always been members of KKK in position of influence, and no one has more influence than politicians. The documentary series Codes and Conspiracies showed footage of a big Nazi rally in Madison Square garden in 1939 (there are clips available on you tube), so it’s ignorant to assume that these ideologies went away.

Norway is no better. Our constitution from 1814 stated that Jews, Jesuits and monk orders were not to be tolerated. This law was removed in 1851, but there were many just as bad things to come. Hitler’s ideas must have had a certain amount of support because many countries kept their eugenics laws after World War II. The Norwegian law from 1934 was removed as late as 1977. During this period 44 000 people had been sterilized, 7 000 of them forcibly. They were gypsies, mentally ill and “social misfits.” You can add 2 500 people to that list because that’s the number of people that were lobotomized between 1941 and 1974 in Norway. There was also a strong attempt to get rid of the Sami culture. There are many things we should be ashamed of, but as we never discuss it, it’s more or less like playing the Hitler card.

We all know that the beautiful house we once built is a wreck. By all means, speak out against racism and other forms of hate, but don’t pretend that this happened on someone else’s watch. You may play the Nazi card because you want to kill the discussion, but we are all a part of this. Today we are afraid of saying something that could be considered intolerant. 

The Norwegian Minister of Immigration, Sylvi Listhaug, is frequently compared to Hitler. Most of the high profile politicians have been campaigning this summer because we have a parliamentary election next month. Listhaug was one of the speakers at a Muslim peace conference for Muslim youth from all over Europe, and she shocked media by challenging the main speaker to say what he thought about stoning, death penalty for blasphemy and the idea that sharia law is above our national law. She did this because, although Tahir ul Qadri is considered to be a moderate Muslim, he has given contradictory statements before. The Pakistani born, now Canadian citizen, said once in an English statement that the blasphemy law is not applicable to non-Muslims. He has stated in Urdu that everyone, either they are Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, or anything else must be sentenced to death.

This is important. There are a few Muslim countries, some of them our allies, that execute people for blasphemy or for choosing to leave Islam. Europe is known for multiculturalism, which means that we don’t expect immigrants to follow our traditions. That is in fact seen as discrimination, and it went so far in some countries that they considered introducing Sharia Law just for Muslims.

I think it’s a bad sign when you apply the law unevenly or when the laws don’t give all groups the same protection. That’s why I think all governments should stop this forbearance that tends to produce parallel societies. 

Football works its mojo

I played here as a child. I was surprised to see that the field with sea sand (including seashells) had been neglected.
I played here as a child. I was surprised to see that the field with sea sand (including seashells) had been neglected.

I remember football when football was football. My father died when I was just eleven years old. He wasn’t the sort that got along with his children, but I have fond memories of football. That’s the one thing we did together.

There was only one TV channel in those days, our equivalent to BBC, and their Saturday match from the British Premier League was an institution. It was one of those programs that people talked about during the lunch break on Monday because if you were interested in football you didn’t miss the match.

I kept my interest for a while. I collected football cards, and I liked individual players more than teams. It was in fact the players that determined what teams I liked. The first players I liked were Kenny Dalgliesh, Ian Rush and Ronny Whelan, so it’s not surprising that my first team was Liverpool. I also remember players like Matthew Le Tissier, Ray Houghton, Steve Staunton and Gordon Strachan. I think Kevin Keegan had retired by the time I was old enough to discover football, but I remmeber him as the manager of Newcastle. That was a lot of fun.

It seems like money and celebrity status has taken over. I don’t blame players, especially the young ones for wanting to make as much money as possible, but it is a shame. Whenever a team develops a good player he is sold to a better club. I guess that has always been the motivation that has produced results, but I think it is sad when some players make £ 150 000 per week, if not more.

My local team in the Norwegian league, FK Haugesund, went to Northern Ireland for their first qualifying match for Europa League a few weeks ago. Coleraine is a town with 24 000 people, so the club probably isn’t a very rich one. FK Haugesund won their home match 7-0, but the most interesting story was the man who didn’t play. Coleraine is a semi-professional team, so many of the players work or study as well. The goalkeeper Chris Johns is one of the most important players on the team, but he couldn’t play because he was taking an exam in physics the same day. He used to play professionally in Southampton, but decided to resume his studies when he moved back. The coach, Oran Kearney, is by the way an P.E. teacher as well.

I watched the best Norwegian team on TV last night. Rosenborg is playing qualifying for Champions League, and they met the Irish team Dundalk. This is another team with small resources in terms of money, but it is impressive to see what they have accomplished. Rosenborg tend to get on my nerves because they whine when they don’t win. The two matches between the two teams ended 1-1 and 2-1 (went to extra time), but it is the wrong team that will face Celtic in the 3 rd qualifying round. I like the spirit of both these Irish teams, and that seems to be a spirit these islands have had for a long time. That’s the spirit we used to have.

Tonight my team, FK Haugesund, will be the underdog. They played a qualifying match for Europa League a week ago, and almost got away with a perfect result. The Polish team Lech Poznan was awarded a penalty kick 2 minutes on overtime, so the result was 3-2. That is still a good result, but it remains to be seen how well FKH will do in front of 40 000 people tonight. The entire population of Haugesund would fit in that stadium, with quite a few empty seats left.

Football used to be a beautiful game, and sometimes it still is. I am probably not returning to football as a regular fan, but I like a good story. So tonight I am hoping FKH can play with a strong Irish viking heart.

 

Be careful what you wish for

My daughter has discovered manga too, and this is one of her Pokemon books. Japan is sort of our promised land.
My daughter has discovered manga too, and this is one of her Pokemon books. Japan is sort of our promised land.

Someone shared a poster on Facebook yesterday. It was a comment about health care, and the message was that if Japan could the USA could just as easily do it. It sounded like everything you want, and more. We have something similar in Norway, and it is true that being poor here is a lot better than being poor in the USA, but nothing is perfect.

Comparing countries isn’t that straightforward. The Japanese don’t like immigration, so they don’t have any. That is going to make it increasingly harder to provide the services they have had so far. According to Human Rights Watch 7 586 people applied for asylum in 2015 and just over 5 000 in the first half of 2016. Only 27 were recognized as refugees in 2015 and 4 in the first half of 2016. The birth rate is alarmingly low, as it is in most industrialized countries. Most countries avoid collapse by allowing enough immigration to keep the population at a stable level, but because Japanese authorities don’t allow immigration they lose 250 000 people a year. This is such an unusual development that some conspiracy buffs were looking at the statistics and connected it to the Fukushima accident. They noticed that the population dropped by a staggering one million people in six years, but that’s how dramatic it looks when both the birth rate and immigration is almost non-existing. This is a far worse problem than Fukushima at the moment.

Japan has 200 000 migrant workers, mainly from China and Vietnam, and because of weak legal protection there is a lot of abuse (illegal overtime, unpaid wages, dangerous working conditions, confiscaction of passports, prohibitions of having cell phones and staying elsewhere over night, forced return).

I don’t know enough about this, but if what I have read online is correct there are major issues in Japan. Women, minorities and young people in general are marginalized, pushed to the edge of society and ignored. It seems like there is a lack of respect for people in this society. I have never heard about it anywhere else, but train groping is apparantly bad in Japan.

According to this schocking article in Independent half a million young people barely leave their homes. They want to go out, and they want friends, but they can’t. They have a word for this, hikkimori. The Japanese Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry define this as young people that haven’t gone to school, worked or tried to socialize in six months. This is another challenge the country can’t afford to get bigger.

Many of us have grown up with stereotypes of the Japanese people. They are creative and intelligent. They make the technology we buy. I grew up with anime and manga, and reading about buddhism and Shinto, but I suspect that life there isn’t quite like it was in my fantasies.

The same can be said for Norway. There are things I don’t like about my own country. Many immigrants also have ideas about how it is here, and I suspect that some experience moments of anger, irritation and disappointment. Most foreigners still like it here because when you consider the pros and cons, life here isn’t bad at all. You can’t make assumptions, though. Many people assume that the USA is like they see on TV, and maybe poor Americans think life here would be effortless. It has been compared to most of the world, but I think that’s about to change. It will probably be a good place to live, but less equal than it has been, and health care may cost us more. We may become the USA we don’t know about.

Human Rights Watch on Japan

Assumed socialism

red rose
Norwegian Labour has a red rose for a symbol, but in reality it isn’t red at all.

Having lived my whole life in socialist Norway I suppose I should be a big supporter of the ideology, and in a way I am. I don’t think there are any democratic parties that come closer to creating a fair society. Unfortunately, Labour hasn’t made any sense in decades.

It seems like Labour has gone through a similar development in Norway and Britain, which means that they haven’t offered an alternative to the Conservatives. Labour in both countries have had a period where the political colour was purple at best, but they are seemingly shifting towards red again. I remain skeptical for many reasons, and it’s not just about the war crimes they are guilty of, or the poor people they have failed. It’s also about mixed messages. The problem with most truly left wing politicians is that they tend to support anything anti-American, even when these regimes are harmful to its own citizens.

Britain just had an election where some seem to think that Jeremy Corbyn was very successful. This is election year in Norway too, and at the moment Labour is expected to return to power after four years of a Conservative coalition. Just like Jeremy Corbyn the leader of the Norwegian Labour Party has promised old-fashioned socialism, or rather a return to socialism. I’m not sure what Labour in any country really want, but they tend to be just as two faced as the rest of the bunch.

I understand solidarity, but why do we have to show solidarity to regimes just because they are supposedly socialist or anti-American? I find it especially disturbing when someone like Jeremy Corbyn is getting closer to real power. He supported the IRA during the 1980’s and 90’s. He once called Hamas and Hezbollah friends. but was later forced to retract that support. He has admitted to being paid for appearances on Press TV, an Iranian station that is banned in the UK. He has expressed admiration for the way Hugo Chavez ran Venezuela, or the way Castro brothers have governed Cuba. Labour’s approach to Palestine could be compared to the one many socialists have to Latin-America. That means supporting people that are pro-Palestine, even if that means supporting Jewish prejudices. There is a big difference between being anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. Labour may pretend to be better than the Conservatives, but this makes me wonder how true that is.

I have mentioned Jeremy Corbyn, but I could just as well have made this post about Jonas Gahr Støre, who took over from Jens Stoltenberg when he became General Secretary of NATO. The election in September will be Støre’s first as the leader of Labour. He has basically pulled a Trump because his message is that Labour will make Norway believe in what we used to be good at. In other words, he wants to make Norway great again, and the goal seems to be to convince us that life has never been harder. We need Labour to get back on our feet again. According to the polls it seems to be working. This is how you win elections. You convince enough people that something is at stake, and that the consequences of making the wrong choice will be dire.

I have often wondered how people can change their minds every time someone from a polling agency asks them what they are going to vote, but I guess the “vote for us or else-tactics” explains s lot. I would be willing to go along with it if socialism was about equal opportunities, but it clearly isn’t. When socialists support, or at the very least, don’t criticize despots, doesn’t that tell us something about how sincere they really are? They may still be better than a government that doesn’t pretend to help the majority, but I don’t like liars.

The Economic Bomb

Old couple sitting on two swings. Many could have a long, pleasant retirement, but a few could also struggle financially. Photo: Pixabay
Many could have a long, pleasant retirement, but a few could also struggle financially. Photo: Pixabay

I have a fascination for conspiracy theories. Some of them are very far out there, but once in a while I hear about one that sounds plausible. After all, governments have done some awful things in the recent past, so there are a lot of scenarios I could believe in.

I have never considered the possibility of a massive depopulation because most conspiracy theories that deal with this are much too wild, but I do believe that governments think a great deal about the need for balancing the population. A recent report from World Economic Forum suggested that many governments will have an enormous debt to the ageing population. The problem isn’t just that the population is growing, but that we have longer life spans. The report quotes University of California, Berkeley, which states that 50 percent of the children born in 2007 will live to be more than a 100 years old in countries like the USA, Britain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France and Canada. This amounts to a lot of people, and many years of pensions.

Norwegian authorities tried to prepare for the troubles ahead with a pension reform in 2011. Retirement age used to be 67, and many were forced to retire at that age. The new thing is that if you want the maximum pension, you have to postpone your retirement. The tax for pensioners has also been increased from 11 to 17 percent, which is intended to counteract the problems with the growing retirement savings gap.

Employed people finance the pensions, and as long as there are enough young people working there will be money for the pensions. What happens when this balance is shifted? There is already a retirement savings gap of $ 70 trillion worldwide, and it is expected to grow by 5 percent a year to $ 400 trillion in 2050. To put that into perspective, the world economy today amounts to $ 74 trillion. You can imagine what a challenge this will be in populous countries like the USA, China, India and Japan. The situation is especially grave in Japan because they have a low birth rate, like most rich countries, but they hardly have immigration at all. That means they lose a quarter of a million people a year.

We do have immigration in Norway, but statistics show that refugees are less educated than Norwegians and immigrants from Europe and North America, and the employment rate among Africans and Asians is also significantly lower. This would have to change if we are to successfully deal with the situation.

World Economic Forum offers a sort of advice, but I don’t know how good it is. They referred to surveys showing that people under 50 years didn’t worry much about retirement, but if you start planning ahead as soon as you start working, you’ll be more likely to manage when you don’t work anymore. They also recommend investments with higher risks and higher profit, but I am not sure this will be an option to low income families. I have heard about people who say they are not worried. They rely on the good services our welfare state has provided thus far, but there are no guarantees for the future.

I don’t believe in the most spectacular theories concerning depopulation, but I think many governments would like to see a lower life expectancy. That may happen automatically because being poor usually means that you don’t eat healthy and that you don’t have access to the best health care. There’s been some great dystopic literature and films published in recent years, but there are some pretty scary possibilities in the real world too.

We’ll live to 100 – How can we afford it?