A blog by an American expatriate living in the heart of New Europe

"It's a lateral transfer" -- George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States
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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Pope's health quickly deteriorating

Poland's national hero has a fever, a urinary tract infection, and worryingly low blood pressure.

He has been given his last rites.

We're bracing ourselves.

Terri Schiavo's death

It's a sad event, for many reasons.

I firmly support a person's right to die, if he or she so chooses.

But what is unclear is whether Terri Schiavo would have chosen to die, in such a state, if she could have told us.

And as the President says, we should err on the side of life. I'll agree to that.

But it also seems to me that the Schindler family had seven years to convince any of several different courts that Michael Schiavo's case was in error. They did not.

What's left to determine is if Terri would have chosen to die through slow starvation/dehydration. If she is as incapable of cognition as the doctors tell us, it might not be a bad way to die at all -- drifting into a heavy sleep.

If she is as conscious as the Schindler's would have us believe, it would be awful and agonizing.

So what I really object to is the possibility that Terri's death was slow and painful. Once it has been determined that Terri doesn't, or wouldn't want to live, oughtn't we ensure a quick and painless death?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Just keeping you updated

Moscow to Invoke “Hangman” to Punish Warsaw for Dudayev Square

In response to Warsaw’s initiative to name a square in Warsaw after the slain Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, Moscow authorities threatened to rename Klimashkin Street in Moscow where the embassy of Poland is situated after General Mikhail Muravyov, nicknamed the “hangman” for his ruthless suppression of the Polish uprising of 1863.

The Moscow City Duma willingly agreed to prepare what the Foreign Ministry called “a symmetric response” to Warsaw’s move.

On Wednesday Vladimir Platonov, speaker of the Moscow City Duma, and Mayor Yuri Luzhkov signed a joint statement denouncing the initiative of the Warsaw city authorities as “an unfriendly gesture and open provocation,” the Vremya Novostei newspaper reports.

In comments for the paper Platonov said that Moscow would consider renaming Klimashkin Street in Moscow where the embassy of Poland is situated after General Mikhail Muravyov, nicknamed the “hangman” for his ruthless suppression of the Polish uprising of 1863.

Earlier this week Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the decision to name a square in Warsaw after the slain Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev an insult to the memory of the victims of terrorist attacks.

“The decision of the Warsaw city council endorsing an initiative of deputies representing the party Law and Justice (PiS) and supported by the city president Lech Kaczynski… cannot but cause indignation,” the ministry’s statement was quoted by Russian Information Agency Novosti.

The ministry said this decision insults the memory of the Russian people, terror victims in Moscow and other Russian cities, and virtually supports international terrorism “one of the adherents of which in the North Caucasus was the leader of the Chechen separatists and national extremists killed nine years ago”.

The ministry noted that although the initiative belonged to the Polish opposition, it fit in a chain of “unfriendly steps towards our country as did recent statements by officials in Warsaw in connection with the killing of Aslan Maskhadov, the direct heir of Dudayev’s business”.

Dzhokhar Dudayev was the first president of Chechnya. Soon after being elected he claimed Chechen independence from Russia. This led to the first Chechen war. Dudayev was killed in April 1996.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Polish Military Court Convicts Officer Of Spying For US

WARSAW (AP)--A military court sentenced a former Polish military intelligence officer to five years in prison on charges of spying for the U.S. in the 1990s after the fall of communism, a court spokesman said Monday.

The suspect, identified only as Zbigniew Sz., was sentenced Friday after being convicted of collaborating with the CIA in 1993-96 while he served as a military attache in Washington D.C., spokesman Janusz Kogut said.

The Warsaw-based court made the verdict public Monday, but Kogut refused to give further more details, citing the "protected nature" of the case.

The verdict may be appealed

Moscow outraged by plans to name Warsaw street after Dudayev

Moscow has described as insulting the Warsaw City Council's decision to name one of the city's crossroads after Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement circulated on Monday.

"The Warsaw City Council's decision, which was initiated by deputies from the Law and Justice Party and backed by the mayor of Warsaw, to name one of the crossroads after Dudayev is outrageous," the comment says.

This move cannot be regarded as anything other than an attempt to "insult the memory of Russians - victims of terrorist acts in Moscow and other Russian cities - and a show of support for international terrorism and for one of its adepts in the North Caucasus - the leader of Chechen separatist and national-extremists, who was killed 9 years ago," the statement says.

"Although initiated by forces opposing the current Polish leadership, the move continues a string of unfriendly moves towards Russia and follows the latest statements of Warsaw officials about the death of Aslan Maskhadov, a successor of Dudayev whose memory the city's 'fathers' decided to immortalize," the document says.

Considering the positive development of relations in many areas, this a matter for regret, the statement says.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Elections ahead

With Poland gearing up for -- count them -- three different votes this year (Parliamentary, Presidential, EU Constitution), probably all this fall, it's time to take a look at the political situation before the real campaigning begins. For an excellent summary, check out The Economist's last country report on Poland.

Leszek Miller
As regular WS readers know, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), a group of former communist party officials and socialists, has more or less self-destructed over several high-profile scandals and 2002-2003's economic stagnation that led to Prime Minister Leszek ("LEH-shek") Miller's resignation last year. After gaining 41% in 2001's Parliamentary elections, the party is now only holding together because it's still in power.

But just barely. Since Miller's resignation the day after Poland's entry into the EU last May, the SLD has effectively split in two, with Marek Borowski ("MA-rek" "bor-OV-ski") leading some of the unsullied members into a new party, named Polish Social-Democracy (SdPl). He failed however, to land some of the biggest names in the party -- such as President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, new Prime Minister Marek Belka, and Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner. These three are moderate when it comes to fiscal policy: Mr Hausner's plan to reform public finances was ambitious, and aimed to cut some zł. 54 ($17.8) billion -- mostly from bloated state pension funds.

Jerzy Hausner And it now seems that yet another party, the Democratic (yes) Party (PD), is where they will land. This group has been founded by the leader of the Freedom Union (UW), Władysław Forsiniuk, and already looks to be SLD's successor on the left. It has a strong 6-12% (depending on the poll) level of support if the election were held today. They're attracting moderates: their gain has come at the cost of Citizen's Platform (PO -- the center-right majority in waiting), which now has only 22% support, down from 28%.

Hausner has already joined the party, and Belka is too, as of Saturday. When Hausner submitted his resignation from his dual-post as Deputy Prime Minister/Economy Minister two weeks ago (which Belka still hasn't rejected or accepted), he announced to the press: "This does not mean the end of my cooperation with Marek Belka." Belka has since said that on May 5, his work as PM will be officially at an end -- he will resign. Along with that, he will call for the dissolution of Parliament that day, paving the way for elections by June. However, it looks as if he doesn't have enough support for the proposal within his own party. SLD officials estimate that 20-30 of their delegates may defect and vote for dissolution, but even if that happened on May 5, the earliest elections could be held is late July. To avoid costing the state several million złoty, most parties will by then probably agree to have elections in September, as dictated in the constitution.

A pity. If elections fall in the autumn, it will probably only benefit Self-Defense (SO) and the League of Polish Families (LPR), two extremist parties, the former populist and the latter right-wing. Both are anti-EU, and both have gained up to 17% and 15% of the public's support in recent polls.

Citizen's Platform (PO) will surely win a plurality in the electoins -- the only question is by how much. 25% should be the line at which they're judged. More than that will be deemed a success, less -- a failure; A later election works against them. PO wants to institute a flat VAT (value added tax) and a flat income tax -- they're talking about 15%, but if they manage to pull it off, a more realistic outcome is probably 18-19%.

Jan Rokita
PO is led by a man named Jan Rokita. He is perhaps the least charasmatic, and most frustrating of the bunch. Stubborn, autocratic, and more conservative than most in his party, I'm not looking forward to having him as Prime Minister. Then again, he's much better than Andrzej Lepper ("AHND-jay") ("LEP-per"), leader of SO, or Roman Giertych ("GYER-tikh"), the LPR's man in charge.

That's our overview of the political situation as it stands now, and gives us some idea of what the Parliament will look like. Stay tuned -- next up WS will bring you the details on the Presidential election -- who's in, what their stance is, and what it means for Polish-American relations.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Russia Made Poland Apologize


Last weekend Russia and Poland tried to ease the scandal produced by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They commented on the murder of Aslan Maskhadov, a leader of Chechen separatists. Warsaw apologized for crack-brained utterance of the official representative of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Moscow accepted an apology.

The scandal broke on March 9, the next day the information on Maskhadov’s death appeared. Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was one of the first who reacted on the happening. Alexander Checko, the official representative of the Polish diplomacy, expressed regret in connection with the death of Ichkeria president. He said the killed was the only high ranked representative it was possible to negotiate with. “The one who has ordered to kill him doesn’t want to conclude a peaceful agreement. That is not just a crime. That is political stupidity and a big mistake.”

It took Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs 24 hours to realize what Checko had said. Finaly, on Thursday, Russian ministry made up their declaration. “As it is known, Maskhadov gave orders to commit acts of terrorism in Beslan, Moscow and other cities of Russia. He is responsible for the deaths of the thousands of people, including children. The Polish ministry has a perverted sense of peaceful processes once they say that Maskhadov was striving to peacefully regulate the situation.” Moscow was wondering if Poland would regret on the death of Shamil Basayev or Osama Bin Laden.

The scandal reached Madrid, where Polish Prime Minister, Marek Belka came for the international meeting dedicated to the struggle with terror. According to Belka, the Polish diplomat gave a dramatic turn to an incident above measure. He just wanted to say that the Chechen problem is being solved only by means of rifles. “We never justified the crimes the Chechen terrorists had committed against Russian people.”

Later it became known that Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia called his Polish colleague Adam Rotfeld. Rotfeld only expressed regret and said that this was not the official position of Warsaw.

Then Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Russian president's special representative on relations with the EU, said: “Polish comments on the death of Aslan Maskhadov cause bewilderment. Apparently the one, who estimated the event didn’t know, didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand the role of Maskhadov. It’s necessary to puzzle out the subject before making declarations.” He also added that it’s quite often that Polish elite judges the present that is seen through the perspective of years. "The historical experience of the past gives a deformed vision of the present quite often.”

It's not just the Polish elite. Sheesh -- 50 years of vicious oppression and the Poles are still accusing the Russians of brutality?

Can you say Katyn?

In the spring of 1940, about 4,500 of these officers were taken by their Soviet captors to the Katyn forest. Most were then gagged, bound, shot once in the head and buried on the spot. The other Polish POWs were taken to other locations, where many of them were also executed. The mass liquidation killed off much of Poland's intelligentsia and facilitated the Soviet takeover of the nation.

Is it any wonder the Poles are so critical?

Look, I don't know whether Maskhadov was behind Beslan, et. al. or not. (Perhaps one of the WS readers can provide us with a link to hard evidence -- or at least the reasons behind the accusations.)

But while Rotfeld may have later apologized, we all know that he didn't want to -- and no one here thought he was out of line either -- mostly because everybody here knows exactly what kind of heavy handed-measures the Russians are capable of, and is sure the Russians are engaging in it them in Chechnya, whether Maskhadov in particular was guilty or not.

Another broken promise?

Poland A.M.:

US budget bungling means funds for Polish arms have not been set aside

The U.S. draft budget for 2006 does not encompass USD 100 million aid President George Bush promised to the Polish army. It is said that the reason behind this is that the US Department of State failed to fully inform the budget commission about setting up the so-called solidarity fund, which would have had about USD 400 million at its disposal to grant financial aid to the armies of less wealthy countries taking part in the stabilizing mission in Iraq. US authorities explained they were not able to include the solidarity fund in the draft budget because the motion they received was too
general. Among one of the problems was its lack of information on how the funds would be distributed to specific countries. The White House is to complete the motion and submit it to the Senate, which is the next authority.

George and Condi -- Do they just promise whatever they want and then renege on it later?

Bend over Poland. Got somethin' for ya.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Concerned about Americans in debt?

Credit-Card Issuers to Win Senate Passage of Bankruptcy Bill (Bloomberg)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

In elections held from 2000 to 2004, the top ten credit card companies contributed the following amounts to various campaigns (amounts are rounded, in millions). These amounts do not include the millions they spend on lobbyists. --BCS Alliance

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Courtesy: Whiskey Bar

Friday, March 11, 2005

Russia Lashes out at Poland Over Maskhadov Comments

Check this out:

Moscow is perplexed by a statement from Polish Foreign Ministry official representative Aleksander Checko, who called the murder of the Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov “a political stupidity and a gross mistake”, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s information and press department said in a commentary published on an official Web site Thursday.

Maskhadov, the document says, had the blood of thousands of Russian people, including children, on his hands, because it’s widely known that terrorist attacks in Beslan, Moscow, and other Russian cities were committed at his direct orders. “If all this is called Maskhadov’s efforts towards a political settlement in Chechnya, Poland evidently has a distorted view of processes of this kind and the fight against international terrorism on the whole,” the Russian Foreign Ministry claims.

“A question arises: will Poland use analogous phrases to regret the elimination of murderous terrorist Shamil Basayev, who is on the UN antiterrorist sanction list, or Osama bin Laden?” the statement reads.

I don't know what this is all about, but Checko (who I have never heard of before) is getting backup from his boss, Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld. A quick glance at Polish news shows he said something like this (my own rough translation):

"The crime committed by terrorists in Russia, in Chechnya, and in Beslan deserve the sharpest words of condemnation. For the criminals who "had the blood of thousands of Russian people, including children on their hands" there is no justification. The thing is, Aslan Maskhadov was horrified at the tragedy in Beslan. He may have been the only Chechen elected president who wanted to seek an agreement. The terrorist Shamil Basayev is not a partner for discussions."

Rotfeld (search) has been stirring things up since he took over for Cimoszewicz (now speaker of the Sejm, Poland's lower house of parliament). He's recently been crying bloody murder over some Polish publisher's decision to release Mein Kampf. -- Given our recent discussions, you can imagine what I think of that.

This has huge implications on Kwasniewski's trip to Russia to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Yalta. Obviously, the Poles consider Yalta the great betrayal, and its aftermath a 45-year tragedy, so his plans have stirred up quite some controversy.

Relations are still tense after the Ukraine crisis, and while Kwasniewski agreed to go grudgingly -- "We want to talk about the gratitude for those who freed Europe with blood, but also about the political decisions which were then taken and cast a shadow over the fate of nations, such as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland" -- it was hoped that this would help push relations in a warmer direction.

If Belka backs up Rotfeld, there is certainly no hope of that, at least not in the near future.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Blogger problems

Seems Blogger is having some problems today, at least on my side. Namely, I'm having trouble opening the comment box (more comment problems...).

Fortunately I can read them via email too, so I've read them, all great.

Seems to me we mostly agree on the censorship issue. DC made the point that we put arbitrary standards on everything, and I agree -- perhaps I can stand movie ratings, and restricting when some content can be broadcast -- but wonder if we shouldn't let the market determine those standards. Before everyone starts yelling about reality tv 24 hours a day, consider the increasing popularity of educational channels such as National Geographic and Discovery. There's also public television -- which I'm a big fan of -- to promote a society's standards.

If you don't like what's on TV, TURN IT OFF. Get rid of your cable. The answer is not to ban it or 'regulate' it, which I am against, the answer is to not partake. Same with movies, clothes, and TV personalities. If you object to what a 'star' thinks, don't support them so that they are an icon with a platform to be able to do that.

Let it never be said that we can't agree dc.

As for blogging fatigue -- it's an easy bug to catch. I already spend most of my day in front of a computer at work. Doing it at home drives my friends and loved ones nuts. Coming up with new content is also an evil task if you're trying to do it every day, which is why I don't. For now I've tried to give a mix of my own content with articles or bits of news of interest, but rarely is there a week that goes by with a post every day. That's how I plan WS to stay, except perhaps during US or Polish election seasons. However, now that I've got my template more or less how I like it, I do plan to reduce the unoriginal content and increase the original. Still, if you're checking WS every day for a new post, you might be disappointed.

Posts at Redneck's Revenge might be even rarer -- when posting on someone else's blog it's important to make sure you've got really good material. And in my case, I better be damn well prepared.

Hausner resigns

Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner yesterday submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Marek Belka, who accepted the decision, however did not state exactly when Minister Hausner would leave the government. Most probably he will be replaced by Jacek Piechota, the current secretary of state in the Economy Ministry. "My withdrawal from the government does not mean I am breaking off with Marek Belka," commented Hausner, suggesting that the Prime Minister will soon join the Democratic Party. By submitting his resignation, Hausner will not have to take part in the Sejm's voting for his dismissal, and therefore does not have a chance for becoming the first minister in history to be sacked by the government. Hausner was strongly criticized by the left as well as the right wing parties, and all current political powers wanted a vote of no confidence. "Jerzy Hausner was until now very busy working in the government, now he will at last have more time to build the Demoratic Party," said gladly the leader of the Freedom Union (UW), Władysław Frasyniuk.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Out of control

In his last comment about whether blogging is an ephemeral phenomenon or whether it's here to stay, wafflestomper, a regular WS commenter, made an interesting point, almost in passing, about "over-controlling governments" staying out of the net. His point was that blogging will remain popular, if outside forces, especially the government, don’t stifle the web with regulation.

Knowing stomper is a conservative, this drips with loaded meaning for me -- but when it comes to the internet (and media in general), I definitely agree.

It's too bad then, that the consensus in both parties seems to be for more censorship across the board. The Republicans want to tell me what my morality ought to be, and they want to keep smut away from my children -- regardless of how I decide to raise them or what I consider smut.

Partly because most vocal Hollywood personalities happen to be of a different political persuasion than Republicans, partly because of their fundamentalist Christian supporters, and partly because they've got bugs up their asses, Republicans are constantly decrying the evils of Hollywood. They'd have us believe that every movie portraying a criminal in anything but a damning light is a threat to the fiber of American morality and culture. We've already heard some GOP-ers readily support putting restrictions on similar types of content (or worse – porn!) found on the net.

And in a disturbing turn, the Democrats seem to agree. Lately DLC bloggers like Ed Kilgore and Bull Moose have been singing the praises of "economic progressives" who are also "social conservatives" – what Bull Moose calls "progressive traditionalists". They believe that in order to get in touch with Red America, Dems are going to have to get more socially conservative – starting with supporting the war in Iraq, and then clinging despererately to phrases like "marriage is between a man and a woman" and then supporting initiatives which would finally put a muzzle on Hollywood.

Take, for example, this Kilgore line I’ve been stewing over for the past two and a half months:

[Some Democrats claim] that any effort to promote some self-regulation of entertainment products amounts to censorship or even repression, as though the utterances of Paris Hilton, as opposed to those of Joe Camel, merit judicial protection.

Promote self-regulation? What exactly does that entail? – yelling at Hollywood until every film they release doesn't disgust Bill O'Reilly? That will be very effective, I'm sure. Then all us Dems can lie in our beds with calm hearts that we've satisfied the repressed Right, and now maybe some of them will vote for our side. Funny how "promoting self-regulation" often very quickly turns into just "regulation".

By the way, Joe Camel is a cartoon character who sells cigarettes to children, while Paris Hilton is an flesh-and-blood American citizen. So yes, I would argue that Paris Hilton’s utterances merit judicial protection, whereas Joe Camel's do not.

Used to be, the DLC promoted economic moderacy and social progressiveness. They believed in fiscal responsibility, business and global trade, but also in traditional Democratic social values, such as making education better and easier to obtain, equality for minorities, the strong separation of Church and State, and an unwavering defense of the First Amendment – Joe Lieberman nonwithstanding. Has the DLC finally transformed then into just another group of moderate Republicans?

I hope not. The "Democratic Wing" is no better. They’d censor the Fox News Channel if they got the chance.

Is this what America wants then? While all of us have found something distasteful on our radios, TVs or internet, are we all really so horrified that we are willing to smother our own creativity and slow the pace of technological advancement with government regulation?

And why is it so hard to find a "progressive realist?" socially progressive, economically moderate. Am I the only one?

Just throwin' it out there

Is blogging the pet rock of our generation?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

New Format

Is it loading fast enough?

Is everything fitting in your screen?

So far I see that in Maxthon the left sidebar is squeezed.

And yes RT, I know about the JavaScript Error under the cost of war counter. It'll be fixed.

I promise.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Polish PM seeks early elections

The BBC reports:

Poland's Prime Minister Marek Belka has urged parliament to dissolve itself on 5 May to allow for early elections.

Mr Belka, who has led a caretaker coalition since last May, made the plea during a debate on an opposition motion for him to step down.

The vote is at 4pm CET.

Mr Belka is expected to announce whether he will accept an invitation to leave the SLD and join a centrist party formed on Sunday.

The new grouping, called the Democratic Party, would campaign strongly for a vote in favour of the proposed European Union constitution in a referendum later this year.

But analysts say Mr Belka may not make up his mind until his close ally, President Alexander Kwasniewski, who stands down in October, decides his own political future.

Like rats on a sinking ship.

The next PM

Warsaw Business Journal

Yesterday, Jan Rokita, a leader of the Civic Platform (PO), during a meeting organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, described his future economic policies if he become prime minister.

He described himself as a liberal politician who strongly supports free market solutions and stated his government would make tackling the problems of public finance its top priority. Rokita would like to reform state expenditures mainly through reducing public spending in all areas except for health care. Rokita strongly advocated the introduction of a flat tax rate, however, he added the changes would have to be introduced gradually, with income taxes first being changed, followed by changes to VAT. Among the other priorities he mentioned were the reform of the judicial system. Rokita added he is against the appreciation of the złoty and will support pegging the exchange rate of the złoty to the euro.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A battle won

Supreme Court Bars Death Penalty for Juvenile Killers
New York Times:

The Supreme Court ruled today, in one of the most closely watched capital punishment cases in years, that imposing the death penalty on convicted murderers who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional.

The 5-to-4 decision, arising from a Missouri case, holds that executing young killers violates "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," and that American society has come to regard juveniles as less culpable than adult criminals.

The ruling, which acknowledged "the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty," erases the death sentences imposed on 72 defendants in 12 states who were juveniles at the time they killed. Although 19 states nominally permit the execution of juvenile murderers, only Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma have executed any in the past decade.

Yet another case of maniacal activist judges overruling the public's desires(bloodlust).

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