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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Monday, January 23, 2006

Ain't no party like a Detroit party

From Mitch Albom

Now it's Detroit. Nice. I know it's just a sentence, but a crown is just a crown, too. It's still the difference between looking at a king and being one.

So the guests of honor have been announced for a Motown party that has been scheduled for years. It will be original. It will be unpredictable. It will be the franchise that once gave us Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris against the franchise that once gave us, uh, Jim Zorn.

And in a nice twist of geographic fate, the most celebrated player likely will be a beefy running back who went to Mackenzie High School and spent part of his televised news conference answering questions about our hometown -- and his.

"What's great about Detroit?" he said. "It's a great city. It's a great city, and you all will see when you get there in two weeks."

Couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

If you want to know more

about how politics is affecting the Polish economy, check out this report by Radio Polonia.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

When cabbage met chow mein

Poland’s most prominent populist is in China this week despite the current political crisis here at home

Polish politics is experiencing an unprecedented period of crisis. The current minority govenrnment led by Law and Justice (PiS) is grasping for any political straws that will bring them at least a temporary coalition before a critical budget vote, which, if it fails or is delayed, could trigger new elections. Yet another set of negotiations with the party that was considered to be its natural coalition partner before last autumn’s elections, Civic Platform, broke down (again) last week, leaving PiS little choice but to renew coalition negotiations this week with the populist farmer’s party Self-defense (SO).

However, SO’s leader, the wily former pugilist Andrzej Lepper, isn't interested. He flew to China Sunday at the invitation of the youth communist party there, and was received in Beijing yesterday by Wang Zhaoguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress. Lepper's goal, according to Gazeta Wyborcza (Polish link) is ostensibly "getting to know the mechanisms of the Chinese economy." Apparently, Lepper wants Poland follow China’s example, since "through its own finances, through its own national loan policy, [China] achieved development of industry and agriculture." Interestingly, when Self-defense invited the youth organization to Poland last year, the group’s leader said that Lepper’s program was "similar to our communist one."

While Lepper’s policies are undoubtedly of a commie hue, it’s surely the Chinese government’s tight control over the value of the yuan which Lepper finds most intriguing. He is perhaps most famous for his calls for Poland’s top central banker, Leszek Balcerowicz, to be removed from his position, and for matters of monetary policy to be put in the hands of the state.

Of course, the Economist-dubbed potato-thrower has no influence over monetary policy now. So why this sudden trip to the Orient at the behest of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League of China, when the right-wing government at home is gaining in popularity and itching for new elections?

Lepper knows that as long as PiS and PO are at each other’s throats, he is the kingmaker in this country. After the failure of a coalition with PO, every other conceivable coalition government with PiS at the helm must include SO. While PiS may do well in an election after a successfully-passed budget (since October PiS has gained a 10-point lead in the polls over PO), failure to pass the budget would confirm the incompetence of the PiS government, who in three months in office have still not formed a coalition, and whose first choices for Treasury Minister and Finance Minister have both resigned in humiliation.

That leaves Lepper in a tremendous position of power. In order to go into early elections (which now seem a foregone conclusion) with a strong record behind them, PiS will need the support of Lepper’s party on the budget. Self-defense, on the other hand, has very little reason to support PiS’ budget, which would put PiS in a position to gain an outright majority (hence neutralizing SO) in the early elections.

After last week’s farse in which PiS leaders in the Sejm attempted to delay work on the budget for weeks, it’s clear that PiS likes the poll numbers it’s seeing, and wants early elections as soon as possible. However, PiS knows those numbers won’t hold if it can’t even pass a budget for this year, leaving only three choices for PiS: 1) Honor PO’s demands, and form a coalition with them (now highly unlikely); 2) Honor Lepper’s demands (whatever they are), and form a coalition with SO; or 3) Call early elections with no budget, and blame the failure on PO and SO.

Since both parties know that only PiS would benefit from early elections, 1 and 2 look increasingly unlikely, unless some major concessions are given to Lepper – which would be extremely bad news for Poland. The third situation is most probable, which is even worse, since despite all of their foul-ups and backtracking, PiS still seems to have a stranglehold on a majority of the Polish public's trust.

So Lepper might as well go ahead and spend a week in China, observing their "economic mechanisms" - He's got Poland's whole political future waiting on his return, and if PiS makes a bad bet on early elections, he just may find an opportunity in the future to put what he learns this week to use.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sunday Vista Blogging XII

I'm still here, I promise...

Trees in Plac Narutowicza, today

Thursday, January 05, 2006

So is this kissing ass or showing spine?

Polish press reports that the current government has promised the US support in any future attack on Iran

Recently, discussions on WS and elsewhere have centered around whether Polish military support of the US in Iraq has more to do with self-interest of the enlightened or not-so enlightened sort. Some argue that Poland's presence in Iraq is driven by a will to "help the Iraqi people" - despite the fact that survey after survey shows that Poles want nothing to do with Iraq.

However, today Rzeczpospolita (Polish link) reports that Poland is chomping at the bit to get involved in another of the US' military campaigns, this time of a much less altruistic nature.

The WBJ sums up the Rz article:

Wayne Madsen, a former US military intelligence officer who is currently an independent analyst, stated that Poland has fully backed the administration of George W. Bush and the potential decision it might make to attack Iran. Madsen backed this announcement on anonymous sources from Polish intelligence, and went on to say that during recent visits of Defense Minister Radosław Sikorski, as well as Foreign Minister Stefan Meller, both ensured their counterparts in the USA, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice respectively, that Poland will support a possible attack. According to Rzeczpospolita, the Foreign Ministry denies these allegations, and states that the issue of Iran during the past visits was not even touched upon during the talks.

It's widely agreed that if the US indeed were to attack Iran, the campaign would not be an Iraq-style governmental overthrow, but rather a systematic bombing of believed nuclear weapons-making sites, so "helping the Iranian people" is excluded. A bombing campaign would inevitably produce "collateral damage" (heavy loss of innocent Iranian life) for which the US and any of its partners would be roundly criticized. There is no reason to believe that Poles would be any more supportive of an Iranian military adventure than the current Iraqi one, and there is some question as to how much military support Poland could actually give the US in such a situation.

So, if as reported, these promises were indeed made, what in the world could be the Polish government's motivation for making such pacts?

This is about staying on the good side of the guy with the biggest wallet and the biggest guns. Kaczynskis and Co realize that the US is a good partner for a small country which often angers its allies and neighbors to have on its side.

Kissing ass? More like irrigating.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Let freedom ring

Rhode Island has become the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana.

The House overrode a veto by Gov. Don Carcieri, 59-13, allowing people with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana to relieve their symptoms. Those who do are required to register with the state and get an identification card.

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