Nov 29, 2015

Sweden on a 4/high-Back in Boliden

It had only been home to him for a month, but really a home it seems.

The aftermath upon the arrest of the 22 year old Iraqi refugee in Boliden, a couple of hours north of Umeå little more than a week ago, have been severe. Did the Swedish Security Service know what they were doing at all? And had every newspaper  in Sweden as well as public service radio and TV lost their mind, releasing a suspects photo and name?

The answer on the second question is yes. The rules for name publishing in Sweden are very strict, and you don’t disclose a suspect. But “preparing a terror attack” was new territory and it seems like everybody sort of got over heated and went over board.

Question one is probably more complicated. The Swedish Security Service claim they acted on intel. And that’s their job.

What is really interesting to me here is how Swedes in general (that is what I am noticing in the media and social media I am choosing, of course), and journalists in particular are upset about SSS action and how they acted, to this open and non hidden young man. His friends in Boliden though, also refugees, open as well, being interviewed, did not question neither the police or the SSS. “They are doing their job, it would be wrong if they didn’t, it’s as simple as that”, was their response.

I am asking a young man who I am seeing a couple of times a week about his opinion. He came to Sweden as an unaccompanied refugee at the age of 16 and he works with my home care company. He has travelled the same journey as the thousands and thousands of refugees struggling their way through Europe this fall. So, what do you think? There is no doubt about it, everyone acting in any way suspicious must be questioned.

The 22 year old was released last Sunday. I am not mentioning his name although I could as it’s out there, but it just doesn’t feel right at the core of the journalist heart deep inside me. I am not mentioning his name although he will continue his life here in Sweden. In Boliden. Because. By the authorities he was offered a new place of his choice to live, anywhere, where he would be a bit more incognito.  But his response was a polite, thank you but no. All I want is to go home to Boliden. I feel safe there. 

The ground in Boliden is covered with snow and the young man is back. He has no idea where the intel about him came from, he himself fled from ISIL and the war. The accusation is what’s hurts, how people could think that he was someone and something he wasn’t. But he holds nu grudge towards the police. Nobody said bad things, he tells he was treated well and they gave him nice meals and clothes.

Next weekend he and his friends are renting a community center throwing a party to celebrate that he is back, inviting everyone in Boliden, serving delicious Arabic food. They want to connect closer with the inhabitants of the small town, saying thank you, striving for creating a life together. And he sends his gratitude to the Swedish police who took good care of him.

I find this moving and touching. And I am learning something important. These people have left unimaginable conditions of life and an extreme regime behind. A 22 year old man who was arrested out of the blue on suspicion preparing a terror attack to the country where he wants to create a life and a future, doesn’t feel violated or bitter, no he expresses gratitude to the Swedish police for taking good care of him.

And. The terror that is pretty much unknown to us but we rightfully fear, is what the young man and his friends know by heart. That’s why they came here. They are as scared as we are that it will strike their new country, possibly even more. That’s what I’m hearing from my friend working with me too. And they are therefore, as I am perceiving it, more tolerant to inquiries and interrogations here, even when it comes to them selves. Let’s only hope the police will continue being an authority treating the refugees and future Swedes so well they will be shown gratitude.

Nov 22, 2015

Sweden on a 4-high.

Today the prosecutor decided to release the man arrested on suspicion of preparation to commit a terrorist offense. He is no longer a suspect. But the terrorist threat remains. Sweden is not safe. And this is new to us.

Watching the news early Thursday evening, I hear a reporter talking about the intensified police presence, and with a tendency of a smile, saying that it’s not likely though to find the hunted terrorist in the inlands of northern Sweden. Some hours later the man was caught in the small town Boliden, about two hours north of Umeå.

A week ago Europe was struck and chocked by the terrorist attacks in Paris. It has happened again. This time the target was ordinary people at restaurants, a sports arena and a metal concert. An act carefully organized and successfully conducted, looking at it with ISIL eyes. It seems like we are impotent protecting ourselves against this horrendous force. And this weekend Brussels is on red alert.

The Swedish scale for terrorist threat is a 5-level. In mid September the Swedish Security Service raised the level from a 2  - low, to a 3 - elevated threat. The attack in Paris didn’t change that. 

But on Wednesday the threat was upgraded to 4 - high. The decision was based on material from the National Centre for Terrorist Threat Assessment (NCT) which is responsible for producing threat assessments for Sweden and for Swedish interests abroad. A man was arrested in absentia on November 17 on suspicion of preparation to commit a terrorist offense.

That’s why, most everywhere in Sweden, police were patrolling streets, squares, train and subway stations, bus terminals, and even the northern inland, sparsely populated. Who would have imagined though, that’s where this man would be found?

Sweden has, this far, only had terrorist act as a failed attack. December 2010 two explosions happened in downtown Stockholm. Only the bomber himself died. It could have been so much worse.

There was something peculiar with this man arrested though. A 22-year old who hade been living among the 1600 inhabitants of Boliden with his name on the door at the asylum accommodation since September. Could he really be a terrorist?

It’s been a couple of tensed days here. But no. He wasn’t. It became clear after interrogation. The young man is released and promised support from Swedish authorities. He will need it. To be arrested as a possible terrorist must be nothing less than a trauma.

The Swedish Security Service claims though that the arrest, at that time, was the right thing to do. And Sweden is still on a 4 - high, on the 5-level scale for terrorist threat. As some circumstances still need to be clarified, the work continues. The Swedish Security Service will conduct additional interrogations with a number of people to obtain information on the alleged attack plotting against Sweden, with a view to proving the allegations wrong. Yes. let’s hope that will be the outcome.

What made me really worried, besides being on a 4 - high, was the fact that the arrested man was found in an asylum accommodation. This fall, when the worst refugee situation since World War 2 is happening, I am ashamed to say they are not welcome everywhere. As of late October, 17 asylum accommodations in Sweden were set on fire and the xenophobic forums on the Internet is filled with hatred and abuse.

If an extrovert 22 year old swimming in the public pool and liking the local grocery store in Boliden on Facebook, had done what he was on reasonable suspicion arrested for, the resistance for and the fear of welcoming refugees would certainly increase. I am relieved that wasn’t the case. And hoping asylum accommodations will feel safe both to Swedes and refugees in the future.

Nov 15, 2015

This is the case. My case/The end

It started last summer and ended this week.

For those of you following me, you know I have been in a legal process with the City regarding my needs for assistance as I am physically restricted. The contentious issue has been regarding being helped getting from my bed and couch to the bathroom, as well as being assisted to my treatments twice a week. June 2014 my application was denied by the City and November I appealed to the Court of First Instance (Förvaltningsrätten). And lost. 

This was a big disappointment of course. Although my lawyer and I had very little hope about a different outcome, we decided to go forward in the process, appealing to the Court of Second Instance (Kammarrätten). This happened in January 2015. The verdict is absurd in so many ways, and we needed to make our voice heard one more time, no matter the outcome.

On Midsummer’s Eve my lawyer contacted me, with unexpected news. The Court of Second Instance (Kammarrätten), had approved my appeal, which means they were willing to look at the verdict from the Court of First Instance (Förvaltningsrätten)! That’s all there was, the outcome could be in favor to me or not, but  the important thing was, there was something in the verdict they were questioning and willing to look in to!

Neither my lawyer nor I saw this coming and I was so happy for the both of us. He is just the sweetest person, who has put in I am sure at least 30 hours on me, only charging me for 5. And I could tell from the expression on his face he was really excited to get a case like this in Court of Second Instance.

Thursday though, the verdict came. I lost. I have been fighting quite a few battles in my life but never before a legal one.  It lasted for 1,5 years and now it’s over. There is nothing more I can do. I lost. And that’s the end of it.

Nov 8, 2015

Move Seattle on the go!

It’s raining in Seattle this weekend. And rain in Seattle means bad traffic. Rain on a weekend even worse traffic. Not that there is ever good traffic in Seattle any more.

As much as I (always) long for and miss Seattle, the thought of traffic makes my belly crunch, my muscles tighten and my pulse rise. To be gridlocked in the Mercer Mess. Stuck at an I5 onramp. Bumper to bumper on the highway. Detoured in Downtown. Sounds like a movie titel.

Seattle is often high ranked on the list of livable cities. But being nr. 7 on the list of most congested cities in the U.S is not a ranking to be proud of. And Seattle’s scores a top-five national ranking for traffic delay. Still, an early summer 2015 survey show that a huge number of Seattle-area commuters — close to half — can’t even imagine a scenario that would get them to ditch the car and take an alternative, even just once a week!

In a scientifically conducted survey more than 6,000 households were asked about  hypothetical scenarios that might entice them to take transit, carpool or van pool at least one additional day per week. For example, gas at $5 per gallon (3,8 liter) elicited the strongest response, but it would still only change the driving behavior of 18.6 percent commuters. And if parking costs were to spike by 50 percent, 11 out of 12 drivers say they’d simply shrug it off. 

To a Swede ca 44 kronor for 3,8 liter gasoline is nothing, but I can tell you parking costs in Seattle already are astronomical, at least compared to the Umeå standards.

The survey even asked if there was something else that hadn’t occurred to the attending that might do the trick. Again, no. Not many drivers could think of some other scenario that would get them out from behind the wheel. The survey seems to suggest that, to some degree current traffic nightmare is a prison of own making. 

There is an upside though. 19.6 percent of respondents said that, if it were an option, they would take high-speed transit rather than drive. As a percentage, that is fairly low, but it projects out to more than 310,000 car commuters in the region. Imagine the impact on rush-hour traffic if that many cars disappeared from the roads! 

And, here is the news: it is fall ballot time, and Proposition 1 in Seattle, to spend a record-high $930 million over nine years on streets, transit, pedestrian and bicycling routes, was winning handily Tuesday this week! 

In March 2015, Mayor Ed Murray introduced Move Seattle, his ten-year transportation vision that integrates plans for transit, walking, biking, and freight. The idea is Move Seattle will help meet current demands while working toward future needs as Seattle continues to grow. Move Seattle envisions a transportation system that contributes to a safe, interconnected, vibrant, affordable, and innovative city.

Who wouldn’t like that for Seattle?! Well, quite a few as it turns out. And of course it’s about the money. Not just the $930 million for Move Seattle, but the nay sayers claim a yes to that kind of tax increase ($279 a year for a mid-value $450,000 home) would pave the way and give a green light for more tax requests.

Anyway, today mayor Ed Murray and about 56.5 percent of voters are happy, and here is the mayor’s plan for action: 

“The first thing I want to get done is that the Safe Routes to School get built everywhere,” Murray said in an interview. The plan calls for equipping roads near every public school to include sidewalks, low speed limits, crosswalks, enforcement cameras or speed bumps.

Sounds good to me!

Nov 1, 2015

A light family tradition in the dark

It’s always very beautiful. All the lights. Flickering in the dark. And it strikes me, like so many times before, how on most every grave there are candles lit.

It is All Saint’s Day, Allhelgonadagen, in Sweden. A church holiday becoming more and more dear to us, it seems. When I was a child I remember dad walking to the cemetery to make my grand parents grave look nice for the the pretty dark holiday. It wasn’t that easy to light a candle in the cold or rainy fall back then, as the plastic wrapped ones is a fairly new phenomenon, so only a few vague flares, that’s my memory of my childhood All Saints Day cemetery.

Today every cemetery in Sweden is lit up in honor to our loved ones. The gloomy holiday we payed as little attention as possible has changed to a celebration of light. Some cemeteries even offer coffee for warmth to visitors shivering in the dark.

My parents passed away only six months a part 2004 and 2005, and since then my sister and I have made it a tradition to visit the cemetery in Nordmaling, 45 minutes south of Umeå where we grew up, at All Saints Day. It hasn’t happened every year, but my guess is Trouble & Trouble and their three cousins remember it as an annual event. And it’s not always we are all gathered either, the nicer when we are.

Over the years our little crowd has been blessed with girlfriends and a wife. Which is nice also because we like to sing to our parents/grandparents. And as my sister and I have produced only male voices, imported female voices come in handy.

Yesterday we all met up at the family grave. We lit the candles in the lantern, one tall for dad and one shorter for mom. And then one for my grandparents. The evening was unusually beautiful. Dry, calm, some degrees above freezing point. It wasn’t quite though, as we aren’t that quite. On the contrary, we are pretty loud. I hope no one was offended by our laughters, and if they were, my hope is we were forgiven when singing grandpa’s and grandma’s favorite hymns. We even sang them a Christmas hymn in harmonies, Jul jul strålande jul, as we won’t be there on Christmas Eve.

This year we also brought them a very special gift. My sister’s oldest son’s one year old daughter. This was her first visit to the family grave, and I can easily picture my parent’s joy watching her toddle around before them, singing already, and looking exactly like my sister that age.

Afterwords we were all invited to my sister’s place for a nice warm dinner, and joined by the little girls newborn baby brother. Only 10 days old he was passed from one arm to another through the evening, we all wanted to have our share of this new family miracle, and he let us. It was so nice of him.

I am happy and grateful to see my sons and their cousins appreciate this tradition. I am happy there is a way for them to visit their beloved grand parents. I feel the value of the stately tombstone my sister and I carefully selected, our parents names engraved in a font my dad would have picked out. The stone is a picture of them, a picture we all recognize and know. It’s a comfort it’s always there. And that we are always welcome.