20 May 2003


Peace initiative drowning in violence (Dagsavisen)

The Mid-East peace initiative developed by the USA, the EU, the UN and Russia is drowning in violence. Never before have so many suicide attacks been made within such a short space of time. Monday saw the fifth suicide bombing in less than 48 hours. “We will not cease the struggle as long as there is a single Zionist still breathing our air,” declared Hamas. “This is not unexpected, and shows how deadlocked the situation is. George W. Bush has the key,” said Hilde Henriksen Waage of the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO). “Extremist Palestinian groups take action each time there is a new peace initiative. They are, in effect, working on the same side as Ariel Sharon and his conservative government. Together, they stand in the way of a peaceful solution. Only the USA is strong enough to put the necessary pressure on Sharon,” she said.

DnB/Gjensidige Nor merger finalized (Dagens Næringsliv)

Den norske Bank (DnB) and Gjensidige Nor are now faced with the really serious business. It will be branch against branch, stockbroker against stockbroker, and unit trust against unit trust. DnB’s chief executive Svein Aaser and Gjensidige Nor’s Olav Hytta plan to axe 1,630 jobs and save NOK 1.8 billion. Now that the two banks are to be merged, the objective is to have eliminated all overlapping jobs, branches and departments by 1 January 2007. It is just a matter of weeks until the merged company’s new senior management line-up is announced. It will not be known until the summer which bank will be hardest hit by the cuts. It is planned that project groups from the two companies will be set up soon after 15 August. 99.9 per cent of the shareholders who attended DnB’s annual general meeting supported the proposed merger, while 85.6 per cent of Gjensidige Nor’s shareholders voted in favour.

Opposition says pre-school day-care price cap not negotiable (NTB)

According to Labour MP Trond Giske, the opposition parties are standing firm on their demand for a price cap on pre-school day-care fees from 2005. The four parties, the Labour Party, Progress Party, Socialist Left Party and Centre Party held a strategy meeting on Monday afternoon, ahead of their meeting with the ruling coalition parties on Wednesday. Mr Giske, who is the MP responsible for piloting the issue through the Storting, said that the four parties did not see any reason to postpone the introduction of the price cap, set for 1 January 2005. In an interview with Verdens Gang on Monday, Mr Giske said that Labour might accept a postponement if that was needed to get the Government on board. But after Monday’s meeting, he declared categorically that the price cap and the provision of pre-school day-care for all who want it go hand-in-hand. According to the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs, the NOK 1,500 price cap proposed in 2002 would probably have risen to NOK 1,770 this year and could easily be even higher when the level is finally fixed for its introduction in 2005.

USA badly prepared (Dagbladet)

The plan was for jubilant Iraqis to quickly put their country back on its feet again. Instead, there was looting, uncertainty and chaos. Now comes the criticism. American experts are asking why the Pentagon was not better prepared. According to the Washington Post, it is a mystery that military and civilian leaders in the US Defence Department could be surprised by the scale and ferocity of the lawlessness in post-war Iraq. Experts claim that Pentagon planning completely ignored a decade’s experience from peace-keeping operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Haiti and Somalia. Somewhere behind the front-line military forces, there should have been a large number of people who were working to ensure the population was adequately protected, said William Durch, an expert on peace-keeping operations at the Stimson Center in Washington DC.

Mentz Schulerud dies aged 87 (Dagbladet)

Mentz Schulerud, theatre director, raconteur, Oslo patriot and communicator of Norwegian culture died in his sleep on Sunday, aged 87. Schulerud will be remembered as an all-rounder in the fields of culture and history. Always fresh and elegant in his turn of phrase, he shared unstintingly of his vast knowledge on subjects as varied as authors and literature, street names and statues. He was, among many other things, an author, broadcaster and long-standing chairman of the National Association of Artists. His book “Norwegian Artists’ Lives” is considered his most important work. In 1996 he received the “City Patriot” award from Oslo Bys Vel, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Oslo.

1. Worth Noting

  • Social security claimants are now having to pay back money they received to help them pay this winter’s electricity bills, because the Storting granted them the cash without informing the local authorities. This winter social security offices paid many people’s electricity bills. The Storting decided that all 106,000 households who receive housing benefit should get NOK 2,500 extra to cover their electricity bills. In the Oslo borough of Sagene and Torshov alone, 251 people have received double benefits. They will therefore have their social security benefits cut in the following months, according to Inger-Lise Myklebust, head of Sagene and Torshov’s social services department. The Norwegian State Housing Bank, which was responsible for paying out the additional benefits, did not send an accompanying letter explaining what the money was to be used for.
  • Employers lose 60 per cent of all industrial disputes arising from their attempt to sack an employee on the spot, according to a review of all such cases over the past 20 years, reports NRK. Labour lawyer and writer Jan Tormod Dege has analyzed the courts’ decisions. According to Mr Dege, many employees have been fired on the wrong grounds. In six out of ten cases, the employee should never have been given the sack, he said, blaming managers’ ignorance of the law and perhaps, in some cases, not a little cheek. Mr Dege believes employers should not be in such a hurry in this kind of case, but should talk with the employee concerned and maybe even call in a counsellor.
  • Four out of ten Norwegians do not think they would get any help from the national health service If they were to become mentally ill, according to a survey carried out by Opinion on behalf of the Norwegian Medical Association. There are small variations between women and men, and between young and old in their confidence in the health service’s ability to help in the event of mental illness. The survey shows that people who vote for the Progress Party and the Socialist Left Party are more sceptical than others.
  • Almost half of all young people who are involved in traffic accidents while travelling to or from a party in Trøndelag County have more than the permitted blood-alcohol level. One in three young drivers who has been involved in a traffic accident in Trøndelag in the past three years was over the drink-drive limit. Tommy Bones, head of road safety at the Public Roads Administration, is surprised by the youngsters’ cavalier attitude to safety. “I am surprised by the almost wild west attitude to using seat belts and motorcycle helmets, and to drink-driving. That traffic accidents involving young people occur at a time of day when there are few other people on the road does not make matters any better,” he said.

2. Today’s comment from Dagbladet

This week, the World Health Organization will probably adopt a worldwide framework convention on tobacco. The convention is the result of Gro Harlem Brundtland’s tireless battle against the evils of tobacco during the five years she has been head of the WHO. If any politician should have the professional and personal qualifications necessary to drive through such a convention, it is our former prime minister. Throughout her political career, Ms Harlem Brundtland has challenged strong, conservative forces – and won. She challenged the elderly, male bastion that made up the Norwegian Labour Party and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), was ridiculed by political opponents in the Conservative Party, but ended up as undisputed party leader and the whole country’s matriarch. Her 1986 government included a hitherto unheard of number of women and gave her an international reputation as a standard-bearer and symbol of gender equality. Through her position as Director-General of the WHO in Geneva, she has got to grips with challenges her predecessors have shied away from. Only weeks ago, she called on the organization’s member countries to cut their sugar consumption. The main objective of the tobacco convention is to stop the recruitment of new smokers, primarily in the developing countries which are being strongly targeted by tobacco advertising. The ban on advertising and sponsorship is not absolute and can be circumvented. Nevertheless, the convention will be a landmark in the history of the WHO.