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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Sunday, May 29, 2005

French Voters Deliver a Crushing Defeat to E.U. Charter

The International Herald Tribune:

French voters dealt a crushing defeat to the European constitution today, demonstrating their determination to punish the leaders of France and of Europe after a bitter campaign that split the country in two.

As the polls closed, the French Interior Ministry said the no camp had 57.26 percent, compared to 42.74 for yes, with nearly 83 percent of the votes counted.

The result was a shock for President Jacques Chirac and a large part of the political establishment that had campaigned for a yes vote as necessary for strengthening European unity.

It also created a challenge for the European Union, which has staked its future on the constitution.

Mr. Chirac addressed the nation 30 minutes after the result was announced. "My dear compatriots," Mr. Chirac said, "France has spoken democratically. A majority of you have rejected the constitution. This is your sovereign decision."

But he added, "France's decision inevitably creates a difficult context for defending our interests in Europe."

He indicated he would reshuffle his government in the next few days.

In the no camp, politicians were positively gleeful.

"There is no more constitution," said Philippe de Villiers, a far-right politician who campaigned strenuously for a no vote. He said the vote had "exceptional legitimacy" because of the high turnout and said Mr. Chirac, who faces "a major political crisis," should dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, said Mr. Chirac should resign.

Turnout was estimated at over 70 percent, far exceeding other recent elections in France. The final figure was expected to surpass turnout in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty 13 years ago that paved the way to the euro.

"It's a big no," said Bruno Jeanbart, director of political research at the CSA polling station. "It's a twin protest vote against the government and against Europe."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Job-stealing Polish bogeyman takes center stage in French referendum

Associated Press:

A faceless Slavic handyman has emerged as the bogeyman of France's nail-biter referendum on Europe's proposed constitution, which the French establishment - and leaders across the continent - are struggling to sell to a disgruntled electorate.

Opponents of the treaty that marks the next big step in a 50-year process of European economic and political integration have turned the so-called "Polish Plumber" into a symbol of fears that France will be hurt by the treaty's vision for a larger, more closely knit Europe.

That addresses fears that an army of people from lower-tax, lower-wage East European countries that joined the European Union last year will take hundreds of thousands of jobs away in France, where one in 10 workers is already unemployed.

On a deeper level, it also taps into what appears to be a growing malaise about the costs and complications of further integrating 25 member nations whose leaderships and people have sometimes conflicting notions of what Europe should be.

Mentioned in campaign pamphlets, Internet chat rooms, newspaper columns and by politicians both for and against the treaty, the plumber has become so omnipresent that Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski acknowledged him during a visit to France last week.

"It's completely exaggerated," Kwasniewski said as he joined forces with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to campaign for a French "yes" vote in Sunday's crucial referendum. The treaty needs approval from all 25 members to take effect in November 2006 - which means a "No" vote from the French could bring Europe's hopes for closer integration to a halt. Opinion polls in the final week show the "No" camp holding a narrow lead.

Piotr the plumber, as some Internet bulletin boards have dubbed him, has touched a nerve in France because of the high unemployment and mounting economic anxieties hanging over the vote.

"It's clear that if our current economic circumstances weren't so morose, we would be seeing a very different campaign," said Phillipe Moreau Defarges, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations and author of a pro-constitution booklet.

Unemployment stands at 10.2 per cent, and disappointing first-quarter data last week poured cold water on both the Government's forecast for growth of 2.0 per cent to 2.5 per cent for 2005 and the credibility of its pledge to cut joblessness to nine per cent this year.

A series of high-profile moves by companies to outsource manufacturing or services to lower-wage economies, often in Eastern Europe, has also unnerved French workers and their unions.

"The French have had trouble accepting the enlargement of the EU," Moreau Defarges said. "Some people really believe that the best policy would be simply to close France off."

It was against this background that former EU internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein caused a storm in France by telling reporters he would have appreciated a Polish plumber when his French countryside vacation home sprang a leak and he was unable to find one nearby. Left-wing commentators were scandalised, and the local mayor vowed publicly to send the former commissioner a list of unemployed French plumbers.

Andrzej Kowalczyk, whose Polish-registered building company has a subsidiary in Paris, says he's been feeling the heat from the cantankerous referendum campaign.

"At the moment there's a lot of customers who don't want to work with Poles because they're afraid, even when they have all the right papers," he said in an interview.

He said few French want to do construction work anyway, because the pay is only slightly better than generous state welfare handouts. Employees below management level are "mostly North Africans and Poles", Kowalczyk said.

Supporters of the 448-clause constitution, the result of months of negotiation and painstaking compromise between EU members, say fears that France will be flooded by overseas workers are unfounded. They dismiss arguments from the "no" camp that the treaty will trample on workers' rights and leave the door open to unbridled American-style capitalism.

The EU constitution comprises a bill of rights, a restatement of existing treaty obligations and some new ones to streamline decision-making in an enlarged EU. It would give no new impetus to EU market liberalisation - but that doesn't deter its critics.

"It's precisely this silence which is significant," said Jean-Claude-Mailly, head of the left-wing Workers' Force union, in a recent interview with financial daily Les Echos. "You'll find no measures in there to rein in social or fiscal dumping."

The constitution's exasperated supporters accuse opponents of the text of playing to nationalist sentiment by seizing on the Polish plumber.

"I don't think the French economy is at serious risk from an invasion of plumbers with hacksaws between their teeth, suddenly interested in the nation's bathrooms," said Pascal Lamy, a former EU trade commissioner who will next head the World Trade Organisation.

"Let's drop the bogeymen and the plumber-phobia which, in this Polish example, looks a little like xenophobia, pure and simple."

Clinton Urges U.S. on Generic AIDS Drugs

Associated Press:

Former President Clinton urged the United States on Thursday to show more flexibility in allowing money pledged for AIDS prevention to be used for low-cost generic drugs, and he criticized U.S. pharmaceutical companies for pressuring the government to restrict use of those funds.

Clinton also said donor nations must provide more funds to scale up the global fight against the epidemic.

Although the United States has pledged more money to fight AIDS than any other nation, its policies often forbid using those funds to purchase low-cost generic drugs from companies in India and Brazil. This has slowed efforts to fight the epidemic in poor countries, where some 6.2 million AIDS patients cannot afford expensive drugs patented by western firms.

"We need greater flexibility in the money that the U.S. has appropriated," Clinton told a meeting of business leaders in New Delhi. "American companies have been too harsh" in lobbying the U.S. government to restrict the use of those funds.

Clinton, who has made the battle against AIDS a focus of his post-presidential life, said he had recently discussed the issue with President Bush.

Clinton, who was recently named U.N. special envoy for tsunami recovery, was visiting India as part of a tour of the region devastated by the Dec. 26 disaster.

He was responding to questions on how the world can ensure universal access to medicines to fight AIDS.

Clinton said the number of AIDS patients receiving treatment in the developing world has jumped to 700,000 from 200,000 three years ago, largely because of the availability of low-cost generic drugs from India and Brazil. Clinton's foundation has been supplying such medicines to victims in Africa and elsewhere.

He also acknowledged that India's new patent law, which prevents companies here from copying any new lines of drugs from Western companies, could hurt efforts to expedite universal access to AIDS medicines.

When asked if he could intervene to persuade American drug manufacturers to grant licenses to Indian companies to make generic equivalents he said: "I will do the very best I can."

With 5.13 million cases, India is second only to South Africa in terms of the number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Many fear ignorance and the stigma attached to the disease could push India into the top slot over the next few years.

Clinton praised India for its battle against AIDS, but warned the country it cannot afford to slack off in its efforts.

"You will move from being the world's number one worry to being the number one model if you follow through the plans you have," he said.

While pharmaceutical companies in India have helped save many lives by supplying low-cost AIDS drugs to the world, many Indians remain deprived of access to such medicines because of a poor health infrastructure, Clinton said.

He announced his Clinton Foundation will help India train 150,000 doctors over the next year to treat patients with AIDS.

The Indian government claims its anti-AIDS campaign has been successful in stabilizing the epidemic and that there has been a sharp decline in the number of new HIV cases. Only 28,000 new cases of HIV infections were reported in India in 2004, compared with 520,000 in 2003, according to data released Thursday by the National AIDS Control Organization.

Clinton said he saw two main barriers to the global fight against AIDS: the non-availability of affordable medicines and the shortage of trained professionals to treat patients.

He said donor nations must give more money to the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to help poor countries cope with the diseases.

According to Global Fund Web site, it needs contributions to increase from the current levels of about $6 billion per year to $27 billion by 2007 and $38 billion by 2015.

"We need countries to give more money," Clinton said.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Two Michigan soldiers are killed in Iraq

The Detroit News:

A Michigan soldier was killed Friday in Iraq, part of a recent surge in attacks that have left 18 U.S. troops dead in the past week.

A second Michigan soldier died Monday from noncombat injuries, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.

The two soldiers were identified as Sgt. Brad A. Wentz, 21, of Gladwin and Army Spc. Joshua T. Brazee, 25, of Sand Creek, near Adrian.

Wentz had put aside his reservations about returning to Iraq because that was his duty.

Wentz, the fourth generation of his family to serve in the military, came home in April for two weeks leave and told his grandmother, Michelle Hisey, that he was concerned about going back to Iraq.

"Brad did make a statement that he didn't want to go back (to Iraq) but he gave his word. He made a commitment and he wanted to honor that commitment," Hisey said. "No matter what our feelings are about the war, this is a military family and being a military family you follow orders."

Wentz, 21, a member of the Army Reserve's 180th Transportation Company based in Muskegon, was killed on Friday when the convoy he was in was attacked on a main supply route in Iraq.

The family of Joshua Brazee, who died from non-combat related injuries on Monday in Al Qaim, declined to comment Tuesday night.

Steve Laundra, the principal of Sand Creek Junior Senior High School, was the assistant principal at the school when Brazee attended classes there and graduated in 1998.

"He was a good, wholesome country kid who was an average to good student," Laundra said. "He stayed out of trouble."

He said Brazee has a brother who is in the 10th grade at the Sand Creek school. Laundra and other school staffers learned about Brazee's death when his mother called the school Tuesday to notify them his younger brother would not be at school.

"It's unfortunate," Laundra said. "A lot of them (soldiers) are giving up so much for us."

Brazee was assigned to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fort Carson, Colo.

Wentz, a 2002 graduate of Gladwin High School, grew up in the community of about 2,700 people in the central part of the Lower Peninsula. He married his high school sweetheart, Tami, and they were to have their second wedding anniversary today, his grandmother said. They have a 15-month-old daughter, Jerzee.

Hisey said her grandson enlisted in the Army Reserves in July 2001. He considered active duty before being called up, but decided against it because he didn't want to be away too long from his wife and daughter, Hisey said.

In addition to his wife, daughter and grandmother, survivors include his mother, Shelly; his father, Christopher; and a sister, Brandy.


"We want people to remember this is Memorial Day weekend and this is why we celebrate. It is a remembrance," Hisey said. "There are so many families like ours."

Since the war started in March 2003, 51 service members with ties to Michigan have been killed in Iraq.

Both younger than me.


House Republicans come to their senses


A majority of Americans approve of using embryonic stem cells in medical studies, according to a CBS News poll. Fifty-eight percent say they support stem cell research, while 31 percent disapprove.

Approval is higher now than it was last August; then, 50 percent approved and 31percent disapproved, but 19 percent had no opinion.

Republicans are less likely than Democrats to approve of it, although half do. Approval of stem cell research among Republicans has risen significantly since last year; then, 37 percent approved of it, now 50 percent do. Approval has risen among Democrats as well, although less dramatically, from 57 to 65 percent now.

CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin notes that while the stem cell debate has intensified in this country, the actual research on embryonic stem cells to treat disease is moving ahead in other countries. Known as "stem cell refugees," hundreds of top American scientists have left the U.S. to work on research overseas.

The medical promise of embryonic stem cell research prompted several House members of both parties who oppose abortion rights to vote yes nonetheless. The moral obligation, they argued, rested on Congress to fund research that could lead to cures for debilitating illnesses.

"Who can say that prolonging a life is not pro-life?" said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., who said she had a "perfect" pro-life record and whose mother-in-law had died the night before of Alzheimer's disease.

"I must follow my heart on this and cast a vote in favor," she said.

"Being pro-life also means fighting for policies that will eliminate pain and suffering," said Rep. James R. Langevin, D-R.I., who was paralyzed at 16 in a gun accident.

I saw a quote on CNN this morning, where Bush was talking to some adoptees and said: "This proves there is no such thing as an extra embryo."

Except that there are, all the time, from fertility treatments. I suppose he would prefer that these "leftovers" were grown in testtubes or pig wombs to full maturity?

And also, can someone on the right (I know you're reading this) explain to me how the death penalty and war are not destroying life to save life, whereas stem-cell research is? I suppose "stem-cell research" is just one of those meaningless liberal terms. The proper term would be "cloning" or "murder", right?

Culture of life my ass.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

What do you think?

The LA Times:

Senate Deal Reached on Filibusters

A bipartisan agreement forged by 14 lawmakers will allow votes on three of five stalled judicial nominations. A 'nuclear' showdown is averted.

In a rare act of compromise on Capitol Hill, a maverick group of seven Democrats and seven Republicans reached an agreement Monday that forced the Senate's leadership to stand down from a confrontation over federal judicial nominees.

There was a palpable sense of relief in the Capitol's corridors as the agreement was announced, with the lawmakers who struck the deal effusively congratulating one another.

"We have reached an agreement to pull the institution back from a precipice that would have had a damaging effect on the institution," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was among the leaders in the negotiations.

Another negotiator, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), said: "This agreement is based on trust. We don't know what's going on in the future, but we do know we trust one another."

Republicans had planned to act today to use a controversial procedure, presided over by Vice President Dick Cheney, to change Senate rules to deny Democrats the ability to filibuster judicial nominations.

The move had become known as the "nuclear option" because of the destructive effect it was expected to have on the work of the Senate.

Instead, the Senate was expected to move today to orderly confirmation votes on some of President Bush's stalled nominations to the federal bench.

The agreement specifically will allow votes on three of five stalled nominations, including Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen, whose nomination to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was the nominal cause for the showdown over the filibuster.

The other two are California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., and William H. Pryor Jr., nominated to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The senators who signed the agreement braced for a backlash from activists on the right and the left who had denounced compromise as selling out to the other side.

"People at home are going to get very upset with me for a while," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the negotiators. But he added that the agreement would lead to a "Senate that functions for the common good."

Socially conservative groups had lobbied heavily for an end to the filibuster for judicial nominees, and their leaders were quick to blast the agreement.

James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, said: "We share the disappointment, outrage and sense of abandonment felt by millions of conservative Americans who helped put Republicans in power last November. I am certain that these voters will remember both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust."

Some Democrats also criticized the compromise.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) said the agreement was "not a good deal."

"Democrats should have stood together firmly against the bullying tactics of the Republican leadership abusing their power as they control both houses of Congress and the White House," he said. "Confirming unacceptable judicial nominations is simply a green light for the Bush administration to send more nominees who lack the judicial temperament or record to serve in these lifetime positions."

Under the compromise, the seven Democrats agreed not to support efforts to filibuster Bush's future nominees, except under "extraordinary circumstances." That's enough to deny the minority the votes to sustain a filibuster.

For their part, the seven Republicans agreed not to lend their votes to the drive led by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to change Senate rules to break the Democrats' judicial filibusters. That's enough to deny Republicans the majority they need for such a rules change.

In addition, the 14 signers called on the president — who had kept largely silent as the confrontation built — to consult more with members of both parties on his judicial nominees.

The White House indicated it viewed the deal as a positive development even though it provided no assurance that future Bush nominees would receive a floor vote.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Bush 'would veto' stem cell bill


US President George W Bush has said he will veto any legislation that would ease restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in the United States.

He was speaking a day after South Korean scientists announced they had made stem cells tailored to the individual for the first time.

"I'm very concerned about cloning," said Mr Bush. "I worry about a world in which cloning would be acceptable."

I wonder if the President just saw the premier of Revenge of the Sith

Next week, the US Congress is to discuss funding for such research.

The House of Representatives is to debate legislation to expand the number of stem cell lines that are eligible for federally-funded research.

Supporters of the bill believe the vote will be close.

President Bush said he was a strong supporter of adult stem cell research, but using material from human embryos was a different matter.

"I've made it very clear... the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, I'm against that," he told reporters.

...unless it's at the Pentagon...

"If the bill does that, I will veto it," Mr Bush said, threatening to use his presidential right for the first time in almost five years that he has been in office.

On the border

The Economist, Lexington:

The best solution so far to one of America's thorniest problems

THERE are many reasons for moderate pragmatists to be irritated by the culture wars that are consuming American politics. They are polarising an already polarised electorate; they are reigniting the politics of personal destruction; and they are filling the airwaves with mind-numbing debates about filibusters. But the biggest reason is that they are diverting attention from other pressing problems.

Immigration is a good example. There is no doubt that America's system is badly broken, with, perhaps, 10m immigrants working in the country illegally and another 1m arriving every year; there is equally no doubt that this imposes huge costs on the country in terms of lawlessness and human misery. On May 12th, two powerful senators, Ted Kennedy and John McCain, proposed a sensible solution. Yet their arguments risk being lost in the babble about John Bolton and judges.

America's present immigration law flies in the face of economic reality. The economy is creating far more low-end jobs than American workers are willing to take (the proportion of native-born Americans dropping out of high school has fallen from half in 1960 to just 10% today). Entire industries—agriculture, food-processing, construction—rely on cheap immigrant labour. But America's yearly quotas are far too small to satisfy its needs.

The resulting black economy undermines the rule of law. Check into a hotel, and you may be the beneficiary of a complex chain of law breaking. The hotel owner may have hired illegal immigrants. The valet-parker may have paid $2,000 to be smuggled across the border by a criminal gang. Several of his friends may have died trying to get in (last year 200 immigrants, including a three-year-old child, died in the Arizona desert). The criminal gang may have engaged in shoot-outs with immigration officials or rival gangs. His $2,000 fee may have been used to subsidise drug-smuggling. Tamar Jacoby, a Manhattan Institute scholar who is a beacon of light in a foggy debate, likens the current immigration laws to prohibition: impossible to enforce, they encourage a whole sub-culture of criminality.

The black economy also threatens two things pretty much all Americans hold dear. The first is the cherished tradition of assimilation. Illegal immigrants live in a shadow world where they are reluctant to put down roots and even visit their children's schools. The other is national security. The easiest way for a terrorist to enter the country without a trace is through Arizona. Forget about visas and background checks. All you need to do is hire a coyote: he will smuggle you across the border, no questions asked, and then plug you into a criminal network that specialises in giving people false identities and hiding them in a huge illegal sub-culture.

The Kennedy-McCain bill is the result of ten months of hard slog. The two senators were still hammering out the details the day before they unveiled their plan. But the product is a hard-nosed law that tries to align America's immigration laws to the economic realities without rewarding illegal behaviour.

The bill provides both illegal workers and law-breaking employers with a ladder out of the shadow world they now inhabit. Illegal workers will be allowed to apply for temporary work permits (which will not be tied to specific jobs, as in earlier schemes). And employers will be allowed to hire immigrant workers if they can demonstrate that no Americans want their jobs. But at the same time the bill avoids being soft on illegal immigration. Any illegal immigrants in the country will pay hefty fines, as well as their back taxes, and go to the back of the queue for green cards. Employers will also face much stricter penalties. Money will be pumped into border security and a new system of tamper-proof identity cards.

Jumping over the congressional barrier

Plenty of people on both sides of the spectrum want to stop this bill. The AFL-CIO union combine has declined to endorse it. A mainly Republican anti-immigration caucus in the House contains around 70 diehards united behind the idea “What part of illegal don't you understand?”; they have just demonstrated their legislative muscle by pushing through a bill that makes it harder for illegals to get driving licences. John Cornyn, the chairman of the Senate sub-committee on immigration, has made it clear that he's opposed to any bill with a “work and stay” provision. Meanwhile, the White House, which has been badly burned on Social Security reform, is reluctant to spend significant amounts of political capital on an issue that so divides Republicans.

Yet immigration reformers also have muscle on their side. Employers' groups and some unions are behind the bill. So are many border-state politicians who know the status quo means chaos. And there is the clout of the two sponsors. Mr Kennedy remains the most determined legislative warhorse in the Senate. Mr McCain is a charismatic reformer with a broad constituency (particularly in the media). Both men are past masters at pushing complicated bipartisan legislation through Congress, including far-reaching reforms of education and campaign finance. They have already recruited Joe Lieberman and Sam Brownback.

The reformers' most important ally, though, is common sense. America has spent millions of dollars trying to tighten up its borders only to see the situation get worse. It now relies on illegal workers to pick its vegetables and build its buildings. Closing the border is impossible without some sort of legalisation for the millions in the country; mass deportation would do irreparable harm both to America's economy and to its traditions as an immigrant-friendly nation.

The problem for Messrs Kennedy and McCain is that common sense needs the oxygen of publicity if it is to breathe. And for the moment all that oxygen is being consumed by tedious debates about the virtues of filibusters.

Crosspost on Redneck's Revenge

Come back, Barry

The Economist, Lexington:

The Republican Party continues to abandon small-government conservatism at its peril

THE Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think-tank based—where else?—in Phoenix, Arizona, contains a striking photograph of the young Barry Goldwater, dressed in girlish clothes and accompanied by a tame monkey. The precise meaning of the photograph—was the monkey borrowed, or a permanent part of the maverick Arizonan's household?—is lost to history. But for those with a taste for symbolism the photograph raises an intriguing question: is Goldwaterism anything more than an eccentric side-show in today's Republican Party?

Although he went down to a huge defeat in the 1964 presidential election, Goldwater did as much as anybody to launch the modern conservative movement. Yet everywhere you look, the Republican Party is abandoning his principles.

The senator's conservatism was rooted in small government. But today's Grand Old Party has morphed into the “Grand Old Spending Party”, as the libertarian Cato Institute dubs it. Total government spending grew by 33% in George Bush's first term. Goldwater's hostility to big government also extended to government meddling in people's private lives. He thundered that social conservatives such as Jerry Falwell deserved “a swift kick in the ass”, and insisted that the decision to have an abortion should be “up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the religious right”. For Goldwater, abortion was “not a conservative issue at all”. For many Republicans today, it often seems to be the only conservative issue.

Goldwater was a famous devotee of states' rights. (His opposition to the Civil Rights Act on those grounds earned him a reputation on the left as a racist.) Mr Bush's Republicans have no qualms about trampling states' rights in the name of the greater good. In the Terri Schiavo case, they passed a law to try to take the case out of the state courts and put it in a federal court, with the president flying all the way from Texas to sign the bill.

Why has modern American conservatism turned its back on such a seminal figure? The explanation among Republicans is the war on terror. Surely you need to spend more on defence when the country is under attack? Surely you need a stronger federal government when terrorists are trying to kill you? As the Cato Institute shows, this is tripe. Even if you strip out spending on defence and homeland security, Mr Bush still wins the prize as the biggest booster of public spending for three decades. And not even the National Review has yet demonstrated the links between terrorism and the Terri Schiavo affair, or, for that matter, between terrorism and the Justice Department's attempts to crack down on assisted suicide and medical marijuana.

The real explanation is grubbier. In the 1990s, Mr Bush calculated that small-government conservatism had run its course as an election-winning strategy. So he embraced conservatism with a happy face, expanding the Department of Education, not killing it. Karl Rove summed up this philosophy at a recent meeting of conservative activists as putting “government on the side of progress and reform, modernisation and greater freedom”.

This love affair with big government has been inflamed by the experience of power. Ten years ago, the champions of conservatism were anti-government radicals such as Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey. Today they are patronage-wallahs like Tom DeLay. The congressional Republican Party, once a brake on spending, is now an accelerator. Congress trimmed Mr Clinton's budgets by $57 billion in 1996-2001; in Mr Bush's first term, it added an extra $91 billion of domestic spending.

Despite this, it would be a mistake to dismiss Goldwaterism as a side-show. The Arizonan would have applauded at least some of Mr Bush's policies, including his tax cuts, his strong defence of gun rights, and Social Security reform, a cause that Goldwater embraced in the 1960s. He would also have found something to like in some of Mr Bush's conservative judges-in-waiting, particularly Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, who have both been vigorous supporters of property rights.

Goldwaterism is also flourishing at the local level, particularly in the west. Thanks in part to the Goldwater Institute, Arizona has taken bigger strides towards school choice than any other state in the union. Last year, Seattle rejected overwhelmingly a do-gooder coffee tax. Florida recently passed a “right to shoot” law, giving citizens the right to shoot people who attack them in the street.

George Bush's balancing trick

Above all, Americans are voting for Goldwaterism with their feet. In 1995-2000, the ten states with the lowest overall tax burdens (including Florida, Texas, Nevada and Colorado) enjoyed a net gain of more than 1.3m people from other states. The nine states plus the District of Columbia with the highest tax burdens suffered a total loss of more than 1.7m. Goldwater's hometown of Phoenix grew by 45% in the 1990s.

Which raises an interesting possibility: big-government conservatism may not be quite the guarantor of long-term hegemony that the Bush machine imagines. Seven out of ten Americans (and one in two evangelical Christians) disapproved of the decision to intervene in the Schiavo case. After Mr Bush, the Republican Party's main crowd-pullers are Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger (both of whom mix social liberalism with opposition to taxes) and John McCain, an Arizonan who takes a more conservative stance on matters like abortion but who shares Goldwater's taste for maverick politics.

One reason why Ronald Reagan had such an invigorating impact on his party is that he never allowed the Christian right to gain too much power at the expense of the Goldwater right. Messrs Bush and Rove may have to pay more attention to that balance if they are to realise their dream of turning the Republicans into America's permanent ruling party.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Gay parade banned in Warsaw

The Sydney Morning Herald:

Warsaw's conservative mayor has vowed to ban an annual gay rights parade for a second year, saying that he is "against propagating gay orientation" in the Polish capital.

Mayor Lech Kaczynski, who is widely seen as a leading contender for Poland's presidency in October elections, said he would block plans by gay rights activists for a march on June 11.

He said it would interfere with plans to unveil a monument that day to Gen Stefan Rowecki, a leader of Poland's anti-Nazi underground army during World War II.

"Organising a gay parade on that day is a joke," Kaczynski was quoted as saying by the news agency PAP. "I am for tolerance, but am against propagating gay orientation."

Tomasz Baczkowski, a leader of Equality Foundation, the group organising the parade, said organisers would try to appeal a ban to regional authorities.

Last June, Kaczynski banned the fourth annual Equality Parade, saying he feared clashes between gay rights groups and opponents who planned a counter-demonstration. Despite the ban, about 500 supporters of gay and lesbian rights rallied in front of city hall, chanting "Homophobe".

A leading member of the center-right Law and Justice party, Kaczynski is widely expected to run in the October 9 election to replace centre-left President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who cannot seek a third term.

Kaczynski has won popularity as mayor for taking a tough stance on crime and promoting efforts to commemorate Warsaw's history - including a museum devoted to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and a planned museum on the history of Poland's Jews.

Poland, Belarus expel each other's diplomats


Poland and Belarus expelled each other's diplomats on Wednesday.

"We have made a decision to expel a counselor of the Belarussian Embassy from Warsaw, from our country, in an identical procedure," Polish Vice Foreign Minister Andrzej Zalucki told reporters here.

Earlier in the day, Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld said his country's decision was in response to Belarus' expulsion of Marek Butcko, first secretary of the Polish Embassy in Belarus.

He also denied Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko's accusation that Poland was working against the president.

Lukashenko's accusation was "complete paranoia," the minister said, noting that Poland's policy has been to support the Belarussian people.

But in Minsk, Ruslan Yesin, press secretary of the Belarussian Foreign Ministry, told reporters that Belarus' expulsion of Butcko was in retaliation for the actions of Poland which several weeks ago asked a Belarussian diplomat to leave.

Yesin said Butcko's personal activities were destabilizing the Belarussian society, noting that the Polish diplomat had been advised to leave Belarus within a month.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington

John Nichols for The Nation:
Norm Coleman is an idiot.

Not an ideological idiot, not a partisan idiot, but a plain old-fashioned, drool-on-his-tie idiot.

The Minnesota Republican senator who took Paul Wellstone's seat after one of the most disreputable campaigns in American political history, has been trying over the past year to make a name for himself by blowing the controversy surrounding the United Nations Oil-for-Food program into something more than the chronicle of corporate abuse that it is. The U.S. media, which thrives on official soundbites, was more than willing to lend credence to Coleman's overblown claims about wrongdoing in the UN program set up in 1996 to permit Iraq -- which was then under strict international sanctions -- to buy food, medicine and humanitarian supplies with the revenues from regulated oil sales. Even as Coleman's claims became more and more fantastic, he faced few challenges from the cowering Democrats in Congress.

But when Coleman started slandering foreign politicians he exposed the dramatic vulnerability of his claims that the supposed scandal was something more than a blatant example of U.S. corporations taking advantage of their powerful connections in Washington to undermine official U.S. policy, harm the national interest and profit off the suffering of the poor.

The Senate investigation that Coleman sought regarding the Oil-for-Food program has already revealed that the Bush administration failed to crack down on widespread abuse of the oil-for-food program by U.S. energy companies, and that U.S. oil purchases accounted for the majority of the kickbacks paid to Saddam Hussein's regime in return for sales of impensive oil. Indeed, the report concludes, "The United States (government) was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions. On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales."

Instead of forcing the president, his aides and the executives of Bayoil, the Texas oil company that the report shows paid "at least $37 million in illegal surcharges to the Hussein regime" -- money that helped the Iraqi dictator solidify his grip on power -- Coleman started to make wild charges about European officials such as British parliamentarian George Galloway.

Galloway called Coleman's bluff and flew to Washington for a remarkable appearance before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "I am determined now that I am here, to be not the accused but the accuser," he announced as he stood outside the Capitol Tuesday. "These people are involved in the mother of all smoke screens."

The member of parliament tore through Coleman's flimsy "evidence," issuing an unequivocal denial that began, "Mr Chairman, I am not now, nor have I ever been an oil trader and neither has anyone been on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf." He accused Coleman of being "remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice" and pointed out error after error in the report the senator had brandished against him.

For instance, Galloway noted that he had met Saddam twice -- not the "many" times alleged by the report. "As a matter of fact I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times that (Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld met him," said the recently reelected British parliamentarian. "The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns."

For good measure, Galloway used the forum Coleman had foolishly provided to deliver a blistering condemnation of Coleman's war."Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies," Galloway informed the fool on Capitol Hill.

"I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

"If the world had listened to (UN Secretary General)Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to (French) President Chirac, who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth,"
argued Galloway.

Then the Brit turned the tables on Coleman and steered the committee's attention toward "the real Oil-for-Food scandal."

"Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Haliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money, but the money of the American taxpayer," Galloway said.

"Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where. Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it. Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government."

Poles Upset by 'Stalinist' Take on History

The L.A. Times:

A Polish magazine has called on its readers to send Russian President Vladimir Putin a postcard depicting him as the long-nosed lying fairy tale character Pinocchio for presenting a "Stalinist version of history."

The campaign comes amid a rise of anti-Russian sentiment in Poland and drew a statement of concern from Russia's foreign ministry about a "worsening atmosphere" in bilateral ties. Many in Poland were angered by Putin's May 9 Red Square speech marking the end of World War II in Europe, in which he failed to condemn the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland as many had hoped.

In response, this week's issue of Wprost magazine comes with a pre-addressed postcard that reads "With greetings for Putinocchio" above the computer-generated image.

On the other side, a brief text in Polish and Russian asks Putin to apologize for failing to condemn the 1939 secret Nazi-Soviet pact, which set the stage for World War II.

The card also said Poles felt humiliated that Putin thanked the Italian and German anti-fascist resistance but failed to mention the Polish sacrifice.

Ties between the two countries have been strained in recent months.

Russia was irked at Poland's intervention in the Ukrainian presidential election crisis last year, which led to the victory of pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

Formerly Communist Poland joined the European Union last year and has been one of the strongest supporters for Ukraine's EU membership hopes under Yushchenko, as he seeks to steer his former Soviet republic away from Russia's influence.

Russia, meanwhile, raised Poland's ire in March when the country's top military prosecutor said an investigation into the 1940 Katyn forest executions of 21,768 Polish military officers, intellectuals and priests had concluded that the massacre did not constitute genocide. The Soviet secret police executed the prisoners, taken during the invasion of Poland, on Josef Stalin's orders.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Leaders gather in Poland for Council of Europe 'unity' summit

China daily:

Dozens of leaders from across Europe were set to begin a "Summit of European Unity" in the Polish capital to chart the future of the continent's oldest political organisation, the Council of Europe.

The leaders and high-ranking officials from around Europe began converging on Warsaw on Sunday for the two-day summit, for which stringent security measures have been put in place.

From early Sunday, the whir of helicopters could be heard over the capital, and police -- 10,000 of whom were deployed in Warsaw for the duration of the summit -- were highly visible on the streets.

Among those who have confirmed they will attend are German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili, and the presidents of the three Baltic states.

On Sunday, thousands of mainly young people from European Union member states, but also many flag-waving Belarussians and Ukrainians, marched through central Warsaw in a parade heralding the Council's summit.

"We, the nations of Europe, do not just watch history being made, we take part in making it," Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis said to the marchers to signal the start of the colourful parade, complete with pom-pom girls and the EU's royal blue flag fluttering among national banners of member states and neighbouring countries.

"We want democracy and human rights for all Europeans," said Davis.

On Sunday evening, after a debate on young Europeans' role in the Council of Europe, Presidents Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania, Vladimir Voronin of Moldova and Georgia's Saakashvili attended a hip-hop concert in front of the Cultural Palace, a skyscraper built in the heart of the city on the orders of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

Also present were Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Davis, as well as hundreds of youngsters, but Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko skipped the event due to a fever.

Among issues that are expected to be debated at the summit are trafficking in human beings, terrorism, money laundering, organised crime, minorities' rights and violence against children.

Conventions on human-trafficking, prevention of terrorism and the financing of terrorist acts are expected to be signed.

"Terrorism is one thing that has been identified as a priority. These days terrorism has an international dimension," Davis has said.

Through its low-key work which aims at fostering dialogue, the "Council of Europe can encourage better understanding between peoples," he said.

"The summit is about the Council of Europe's orientation over the next few years, about establishing what to do now that expansion is almost finished," the Council's Secretary-General Terry Davis said earlier this year.

Founded in 1949, the Council took in its 46th member, Monaco, in October last year. In addition to member states, five countries have observer status on the Council -- Canada, Japan, Mexico, the United States and the Vatican -- and former Soviet republic Belarus has applied to join.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Return of the axis of evil

The Economist:

An embarrassment for George Bush, and a test for his critics

YOU do not hear George Bush talk much about the “axis of evil” these days. That is no surprise. Rather a lot has gone wrong in the three years since America's president told Congress that it would be catastrophic to allow Iraq, Iran or North Korea to acquire weapons of mass destruction. From the beginning, the melodramatic phrase never travelled well. And after the intelligence fiasco in Iraq, which was discovered after being invaded not to have any especially sinister weapons after all, Mr Bush cannot be eager to cry wolf again.

But despite the phrase, despite Iraq and despite the understandable desire of Mr Bush to change the subject, the fact remains that the wolves are indeed at the door. In the coming days or weeks, the world may face a double nuclear challenge from the axis's surviving members. From North Korea, which quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003, have come reports that the regime is preparing its first nuclear test. And Iran has just informed Britain, France and Germany that after six months during which it had suspended these activities, it will shortly resume converting yellowcake into the uranium-hexafluoride gas that can be enriched for a nuclear bomb (see article). It would still be several years from making such a weapon, but it would be back on the way.

If you want a multipolar world, do something

Should either or both of these events come to pass, note please that it is the world and not just America that will have to rise to the challenge. A lot of Mr Bush's critics will not see it that way. They will take satisfaction in his failure to achieve an aim he put at the forefront of his foreign policy in 2002—and they will argue that the example America made of Saddam Hussein turns out to have fed rather than curbed the nuclear appetite of Iran and North Korea. But that argument is magnificently beside the point. The point now is that both Iran and North Korea are unpredictable regimes whose possession of nuclear weapons would be dangerous in its own right and might also persuade other countries in their neighbourhoods to go nuclear as well. Whatever can reasonably be done to stop this proliferation nightmare should be done. And this, for all the talk of a unipolar world with one superpower, is not a job that America should have to do, or probably is able to do, alone.

After the war in Iraq, the British, French and Germans started to talk to Iran about a history of nuclear cheating under the NPT that stretches back 20 years and has cast deep suspicion over the regime's claim that it is interested only in peaceful nuclear energy. One European motive was to see whether there was a better way than American pre-emption to discourage rogue regimes from acquiring nuclear weapons. If the Iranians ignore last-minute pleas and resume converting yellowcake or enriching uranium, the European three will not necessarily have “failed” (though, again, some American critics of Euro-wimpery will say gleefully that they have): the Europeans can justly claim that it was a success of sorts to have talked Iran into stopping for a period. But it would be a failure to leave it at that. To be taken even half seriously in future, the Europeans must do just what they have promised to do in such circumstances, which is to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council, with an eye to imposing sanctions.

During Mr Bush's first term, the Americans expressed private exasperation with the Europeans. They were impatient for action in the Security Council. Now that America may at last get its way, it will rediscover that the UN is no panacea. The Iranians, after all, have a case to make. They admit to having bent the rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which supervises the NPT, but say that they have come clean and have every right to enrich uranium for peaceful ends. Iran's story of innocence is pretty tall, but it is one that powerful members of the Security Council may pretend to believe. Russia wants to sell Iran its reactors, China and Japan to buy its oil and gas. With oil at $50 a barrel, this is not the ideal moment to cut off one of the world's biggest suppliers. If the UN imposes sanctions at all, they are likely at first to be modest.

What, though, is the alternative? The Americans and Europeans have a bad habit of trying to scare the Iranians by threatening them with the Israelis: Congress, as it happens, has just approved the sale of bunker-busting bombs to Israel's highly capable air force. But although the Israelis do not rule out pre-emption as a last resort, they say they would prefer other countries to solve the problem politically. A military strike against Iran's dispersed, buried and concealed nuclear facilities might not succeed, and even if it did could provoke retaliation—with missiles against Israel or by other means against the American project in Iraq. As for North Korea, which is capable of flattening South Korea's capital even without using the nuclear bombs it may already possess, there is no military means of disarming it that does not look prohibitively dangerous.

In theory, the absence of promising military options should be welcome news to Russia, China and the countries of Europe that took such exception to Mr Bush when he seemed to claim a general right of American military pre-emption. But it also obliges them to find another way. China has helped to organise a desultory series of six-country talks with North Korea, and the European three squeezed that six-month freeze out of Iran. What the Europeans and Chinese have yet to do is show that they take the proliferation threat seriously enough to take any risks or make any sacrifices to avert it.

Now is their chance

In the end, there may be no way to persuade countries that are sufficiently paranoid to forgo nuclear weapons. But Iran needs access to world markets—not least in Europe—to provide jobs for a fast-growing population that has fallen out of love with the Islamic revolution, and a pauperised North Korea depends on China for almost all its energy. If these regimes faced credible economic threats at the same time as being offered the right sort of security assurances by the United States, the nuclear genie might yet be pushed back into the bottle. But this will take unity, co-ordination and statecraft of a kind the world has not seen for many years. And time is running out.

What are friends for?

Poland A.M.:

The Council of Europe summit will not be attended by top European leaders

The upcoming summit of the Council of Europe, starting on Monday in Warsaw with major security measures, will be snubbed by many world leaders, who are instead sending their foreign ministers. The following countries' prime ministers will not come to Poland, contrary to prior expectations of the Polish government: UK, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, as well as Russian president Vladimir Putin, who until now has participated in every summit of an organization in which Russia is a member, such as the Council of Europe. U.S. president George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi were also invited as observers, but neither will attend, nor send a high-ranking representative. The summit will be attended by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but only on the second day, as well as majority of presidents from Eastern European countries.

Poland Repays Communist-Era Debt to U.S.

The Associated Press:

Poland on Thursday repaid most of its communist-era debt to the United States, handing Washington $868 million, a government official said.

Deputy Finance Minister Wieslaw Szczuka was quoted as telling the PAP news agency that the payment accounted for all of the money Poland owes the U.S. through the Paris Club of creditor nations - with the exception of $96 million, which has been transferred to an ecological fund.

Szczuka added that Poland plans to pay Sweden the 202 million euros ($258 million) it owes on Friday. However, he said, Poland is awaiting an answer from its biggest creditor, France, on its repayment plan.

With its early payback of part of the money owed through the Paris Club of 19 creditor nations, Poland hopes to save on the high, often fixed interest rates it pays on the debt.

Poland's total debt, which amounts to 12.3 billion euros ($15.6 billion), matures between 2005 and 2009.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Desperate times call for desperate measures


Poland's SLD Pledges More Spending Before September

May 9 (Bloomberg) -- Poland's ruling Democratic Left Alliance said it will boost social spending before September's scheduled elections after popular support for the party fell below the level required to hold any seats in the new parliament.

The party aims to raise the minimum wage, boost pensioners' incomes and give more to students, the party's leader, Jozef Oleksy, said on public radio Program III yesterday.

It is time ``to focus on the poorest part of society,'' he said. The Alliance will vote on ``appropriate regulations'' to boost social spending.

Alliance lawmakers on May 5 rejected a move by Prime Minister Marek Belka and opposition parties to dissolve parliament and force early elections. Poland is struggling to cut its budget deficit to below 3 percent of gross domestic product to meet terms top adopt the euro before the end of this decade.

The zloty traded at 4.118 per euro at 9:20 a.m. in Warsaw, unchanged from Friday. It dropped to 3.213 from 3.20 per dollar. The benchmark five-year bond due 2010 traded at 101.30 per 1,000 ($340) face value, unchanged from Friday, keeping the yield at 5.435 percent.

Declining Support

The Alliance, which had 51 percent support in polls when it took office in 2001, is now favored by between 3 percent and 5 percent of voters, according to April surveys by the four largest Polish polling centers. Its coalition partner, the Labor Union, had 1 percent support and probably will drop out of parliament.

Poland, with a population of 38 million, has more than 9 million pensioners and more than 3 million unemployed, taking advantage of social benefits and representing ``quite a broad lobby interested in a further increase of social benefits,'' said Marcin Mrowiec, an economist at Bank BPH in Warsaw.

About 7.5 million people are registered as employed and paying contributions to the social security and health care systems, according to Central Statistical Office figures.

``Statistically then, it is much easier to win support from this part of society,'' Mrowiec said.

Oleksy also said the party ``will meet with Belka on cooperation and his political orientation.'' Oleksy didn't confirm a report that the party may seek to dismiss Belka through a no- confidence vote.

No Confidence

Another Alliance official, Marek Dyduch, said the party may table a motion of no confidence against Belka if social bills are not agreed, Polish newswire PAP reported on May 7. Dyduch also said the party may hold talks with opposition parties to gain their support for a new cabinet to govern through September.

Belka, who stepped down after lawmakers voted against dissolving parliament four months ahead of schedule, was asked by President Aleksander Kwasniewski to remain in office until September.

Belka has said he supports the new Democratic Party, co- founded by former Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner, who quit the Alliance in February. Belka took part in the party's first congress yesterday, though didn't sign a declaration of membership, Hausner said.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Polish Lawmakers Reject Parliament's Dissolution


May 5 (Bloomberg) -- Poland's ruling Democratic Left Alliance, whose popularity has plummeted since taking the country into the European Union last year, [editor's note: It was plummetting long before that] rebuffed a move by Prime Minister Marek Belka and opposition parties to dissolve parliament and force early elections.

Polish lawmakers rejected the motion in a 253-172 vote in Warsaw. Opposition needed 307 votes in the 460-seat chamber to succeed. Belka, who promised to stay in office a year when named premier last May, pledged to step down even if the vote failed.
Belka said he supportedthe dissolution of parliament as it will help him keep a promise made when he was named premier on May 2, 2004, to spend only a year in office.

Belka also said he plans to join a new party, the Democratic Party, co-founded by former Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner, who quit the Democratic Left Alliance in February. Belka plans to take part in the new party's first congress on May 8.

If Belka makes good on his intention to resign, it must be approved by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who asked Belka on April 29 to remain in place until the autumn and has said he will not accept his resignation.

The government "is limited only to administrative tasks as it has neither time nor support to pursue any reforms,'' said Marcin Mroz, a currency strategist at Societe Generale SA in Warsaw. "We unfortunately don't have enough solid information about any economic agenda from the next government.''

The most popular opposition parties, Citizens' Platform and Law and Order [Law and Justice], which favored June elections, three months ahead of schedule, joined the Polish Social Democracy and the Polish Family League [League of Polish Families] in pushing for dissolution.

"You'll still have four months to fight for your privileges, four months to fight for your own interests,'' Donald Tusk, leader of the Citizens Platform told Alliance lawmakers in a debate before the vote.

The Alliance will campaign before September elections to lower the jobless rate, the EU's highest, help farmers and pensioners get more social benefits and abandon more than half the planned spending cuts that were designed to allow the nation to adopt the euro in 2009, said party leader Krzysztof Janik in today's debate.

"Unemployment is gradually falling and there are still many important things this parliament can do,'' said Janik. "There really was no rational reason to shorten the term.''

[Except that the whole country wants to get around to building a proper market economy and government after your party's imbecilic mismanagement...]

The Alliance, which had 51 percent support in polls when it took office in 2001 is now favored by between 3 percent and 5 percent of voters, according to surveys conducted by the four largest Polish polling centers in April. Its coalition partner, the Labor Union, has the support of 1 percent and probably will drop out of parliament.

Law and Jusice (PiS) has taken the lead in the polls, overtaking Civic Platform (PO). Both are center right parties. PO is more socially liberal, whereas PiS is more likely to continue governmental meddling in the economy - it favors privatization less than PO.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

LOT reportedly set to choose Boeing

Warsaw Business Journal:

PLL LOT Polish Airlines will probably opt to renew its aging fleet with six planes from American Boeing, Rzeczpospolita has learnt unofficially. The decision will be made public within the next few days. According to representatives of the commission investigating both offers, the running costs of Boeing's 787 planes will be cheaper than that of European rival Airbus' A-330. The value of the contract will amount to $500 million. The decision over which company would be selected to deliver the machines has already been postponed several times due to strong competition between the ompanies and diplomatic lobbying from top EU officials. These included a letter sent to Prime Minister Marek Belka by British PM Tony Blair, President of France Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder. All three tried to convince Belka to purchase the Airbus planes. The US administration also put pressure on domestic politicians to select their Boeings.

Pakistan 'catches al-Qaeda chief'

The BBC:

Pakistan has arrested senior Libyan al-Qaeda suspect Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the government says.

Libbi is said to have been third in al-Qaeda and is wanted over attempts on the life of Pakistan's president.

US President George W Bush described the reported capture as "a critical victory in the war on terror".

The BBC security correspondent says it is the most significant arrest since Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, in 2003.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Judge Declares Mistrial in Abu Ghraib Prison Abuse Case

The New York Times :

FORT HOOD, Tex., May 4 - A United States Army judge declared a mistrial in the court martial of Pfc. Lynndie England today after expressing doubts about whether she had been aware that she was committing a crime when she abused Iraqi prisoners.

The mistrial means that Private England's deal with military prosecutors, under which she agreed to plead guilty, is invalid. Her case goes next to Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of the Army's Third Corps at Fort Hood, who has a wide range of options, including ordering a nonjudicial punishment or directing that the case be reinvestigated. General Metz has jurisdiction in the case because he was the commander of ground forces in Iraq at the time the abuse occurred.

Before declaring a mistrial, the judge, Col. James L. Pohl, had halted the proceedings briefly after a witness, Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., testified that photographs of naked prisoners taken at Abu Ghraib Prison near Baghdad had a legitimate training use for guards. Private Graner also said he had ordered Private England to hold a leash around the neck of a detainee and said that the leash had become attached to the prisoner's neck by accident.

Private Graner's explanation contradicted Private England's testimony earlier this week, when she told the judge that she knew that the photographs of naked prisoners were intended solely for the amusement of American military guards, including herself, and that she understood her actions were wrong.

Testimony by Private England and other witnesses speaking on her behalf was intended to mitigate her actions and secure a shorter prison term, but Colonel Pohl warned several times that it was verging on a statement of her innocence.

"If you don't want to plead guilty, don't," the judge told her this morning. "Am I missing something here?"

Yes. It's that she didn't know those pictures "were intended solely for the amusement of American military guards."

Somebody thought this was a good idea.

In other news:

Army misses April recruiting goal by 42 percent

The U.S. Army missed its April recruiting goal by a whopping 42 percent and the Army Reserve fell short by 37 percent, officials said on Tuesday, showing the depth of the military's wartime recruiting woes.

With the Iraq war straining the U.S. military, the active-duty Army has now missed its recruiting goals in three straight months, with April being by far the worst of the three, and officials are forecasting that it will fall short again in May.

The all-volunteer Army is providing the majority of the ground forces for an Iraq war in which nearly 1,600 U.S. troops have died.

The active-duty Army signed up 3,821 recruits last month, falling short of its goal of 6,600 for April, Army Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith said. That left the Army 16 percent behind its year-to-date goal, officials said.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Looking at the States from Europe

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