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, August 31, 2006

Duck and Brussels sprouts

Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński is using his first trip to Brussels to set the record straight

You might not know it, but there are some nasty rumors going around about Poland in the EU. Whispers in the halls of Brussels and Strasbourg can be heard accusing Poland of xenophobia, homophobia, and even anti-Semitism.Yucky stuff.

Fortunately, Prime Minister Kaczyński flew into Brussels yesterday to tell those nasty Brussels bureaucrats that all of that is absolutely, 100% untrue!

From theparliament.com:

"Don’t believe in the myth of anti-Semitic, xenophobic Poland," Kaczynski told a Brussels press pack.

"There are homosexuals in Poland who have very high positions in politics and even on the right of politics. This is a media thing, it is not real."

Well. That clears everything right up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

As promised

Solidarity activists are defending Deputy Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz

As I mentioned below, Deputy Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz has been in some pretty hot water recently over statements he made accusing Poland's former Foreign Ministers of spying for the Soviets.

In response to heavy criticism of Macierewicz's un-supported accusations in the media, some of his former Solidarity colleagues sent an open letter of support to Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński. It read thusly:

The authors of the letter express their trust in Minister Macierewicz, a Solidarity activist and one of the most eminent leaders of the Polish independence movement. We also have trust in the information that he said he possesses about the influence former [Soviet] agents have on the country’s current affairs and national interests.

The attack on Antoni Macierewicz is an attempt to halt actions aimed at eliminating those spies from public life and plays to the benefit of the all enemies of independence.

Eek! They're everywhere!

The information Minister Macierewicz has indicated he has, will not undermine Poland’s credibility in the international community. Countries which undertake efforts to clear their political apparatus of untrustworthy people deserve respect.

Absolutely. Say, what was that evidence again?

It is worth noting that Poland’s most influential media outlets have not bothered to analyze the minister’s statements, but instead called the information he presented untrue.

Ah, yes. I knew it. Once again, it's all the media's fault. Tell me, what were they to analyze? The accusation was simple: Most of the former Foreign Ministers were "agents of the Soviet secret services." (większość dawnych ministrów spraw zagranicznych była "agentami sowieckich służb specjalnych". ) The statement is either true or it is false. But since no evidence has been presented, how are we to analyze any further than that?

Oh yes, and isn't it the burden of the accuser to prove guilt?

The general public in Poland has the right to know the dramatic truth, so we believe that what Minister Macierewicz did was an act of patriotism intended to stress the good character of the country.

The dramatic truth: Macierewicz has no proof, and simply let loose with reckless accusations that would score him points on a politically friendly television network (Father Tadeusz Rydzyk's TV Trwam).

The same people who, back in 1992, opposed the cabinet of Jan Olszewski for its efforts to reduce the influence of post-Soviet agents, are now attacking Minister Macierewicz who is merely trying to fulfill the same goals.

The media attack against Antoni Macierewicz is in reality an attempt to halt the vetting and liquidation of the Military Information Services and to replace them by new special [secret] services.

Andrzej Gwiazda, Anna Walentynowicz, Joanna Duda-Gwiazda and Krzysztof Wyszkowski,

These are deeply, deeply frightened people.

Even Radio Polonia isn't safe

Is the current PiS government so power-hungry that it has even begun bending English-language state media to its will?

There aren't too many websites where someone interested in Polish news can go for reliable English-language reportage. The Warsaw Voice, is, quite simply, crap – and only comes out weekly. The Warsaw Business Journal doesn't make many of its stories available to those who refuse to register, and except for their news digest service (also restricted) only comes out weekly. Poland Monthly is full of old news. The best source – at least what used to be the best source – is Radio Polonia.

I've been going there recently to read what they say about a particular scandal that's been getting much play in the news here, but very little internationally. Antoni Macierewicz – a very conservative politician and one of the leaders of the Patriotic Movement party (Ruch Patrioticzny), who was recently appointed as Deputy Defense Minister, began speaking to the media without thinking, it seems. A week or so ago, he claimed that most Foreign Ministers of Poland since 1989 have been Soviet spies. He provided no proof for his claims.

This caused a political uproar, since naturally the accused wanted to see what evidence Macierewicz had which would lead him to publicly defame them. Many were also upset because the statements, understandably, riled Russia at a time when Russo-Polish relations were beginning to get a tad warmer. Andrzej Lepper, Minister of Agriculture, complained that this was not helping to convince the Russians to lift their ban on Polish meat and plant products.

The media had a field day with the story, mostly because Macierewicz continually refused to present any proof whatsoever. Calls from every end of the political spectrum called for his resignation, while the Twins-in-Chief remained conspicuously silent. The calls grew so loud that Macierewicz finally apologized, saying that his statements were an “inappropriate mental shortcut” – whatever that means – but never once producing any evidence.

In response to the furor, four old allies of Macierewicz from his Solidarity days wrote a letter to Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński supporting the Deputy Minister.

The letter reads like the ravings of a madman who's watched too many conspiracy-theory films, and is full of errors of logic. In short, it's hogwash, and is so flawed that I'm forced to devote an entire upcoming post my comments on it, rather than enumerate them here.

The worst part, however, is that I found the letter, unabridged, uncommented upon, hardly even introduced, on the website of the once-neutral Radio Polonia. The station's English service reaches folks from all over the globe, and has a large following. A search of the site's archives for any information on the scandal produces only this letter, as well as another short article, written earlier, reporting that the letter was sent.

These two articles give credence to the government's position, without presenting any opposing view. There is little mention on the site of criticisms of Macierewicz's extremely irresponsible statements (if “causing a political storm”, and “many in the media have called for his resignation” - can be called mention of criticisms). This type of unbalanced presentation of a story has the fingerprints of PiS – which, make no mistake, is now in control of Polish Radio – all over it.

Has PiS now strongarmed so much of the public sector that even the formerly balanced Radio Polonia is becoming a mouthpiece of the government? No analysis, no opposing views, just a cut and paste job hoping to spice up the news cycle with a bit of pro-PiS propaganda?

Radio Polonia ought to be ashamed of itself.

--- UPDATE ---

It seems Radio Polonia - in the interest of reporting actual news - has published a story reporting that former Foreign Minister Wladysław Bartoszewski has resigned from his chairmanship of the council of the Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs due to Macierewicz's statements.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday Vista Blogging XIII

EK for WS
Tulum, Mexico

Gus for WS

Off George Town, Grand Cayman

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I'll be going to jail any day now

In case you didn't know, it's a crime in Poland to insult the head of state.

Think they'll give me three years for calling the duck a dunderhead?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Putting on their election hats

Who's the biggest populist in Poland?

You know election season has started in Poland when populists start promising the moon. With local elections just a couple of months away, the three parties in Poland's ruling coalition have begun a game of political one-upmanship, each seeing which can promise more voters an election gift with the biggest bow, and which can portray previoius fiscal reforms as a more outrageous pillaging of the state.

The pit-bull and the bugbear

We start off with Law and Justice (PiS). This week the party sicced its pit-bull Artur Zawisza on that bugbear of all Polish anti-reformists, central-bank chief Leszek Balcerowicz. Zawisza heads the Banking Investigative Commission – PiS' pet project – which was created with all but the express purpose of publicly hanging Balcerowicz for all of Poland's economic woes since the transition from communism to capitalism.

Just as the commission was gearing up to have its first meeting, Zawisza suggested the existence of “notes” written by Polish Special Services alleging that Balcerowicz had cheated the state during the privatization of Bank Pekao in 1999.

Balcerowicz's head on a platter is just the kind of gift the ducks would love to give their constituents in the runup to the elections, and evidence that he had cheated the state out of billions would have piled up the votes for PiS. But when Balcerowicz threatened legal action against Zawisza, the pit-bull backed off with his tail between his legs faster than you can say “spayed and neutered”, whimpering that he had only pointed out a conflict of interest.

The damage may be done however, as the insinuation of these notes' existence is enough to convince those who want to believe Balcerowicz pilfered state coffers. And since Balcerowicz is expected to undergo a long, nasty interrogation by the commission in front of TV cameras for the whole country to see, PiS may gain the political capital they're looking for yet.

Balcerowicz, who can always be counted upon to shoot off an inflamatory quip whenever there's a microphone nearby, is so exasperated that he compared the government to that of Iran, and said it was causing Poland's democracy to “degenerate”.

“There is a competition among the coalition partners as to who will be a bigger populist,” Balcerowicz told public radio yesterday morning.

Back to the future

Which brings us to the League of Polish Families (LPR), the ultra-conservative reactionaries who are in danger of not winning anything at all this election season. To pump up the poll numbers, the party has pledged to become even more hardline - and began that campaign two weeks ago with a proposal to re-introduce the death penalty in Poland.

Monday, the party's Frankenstein-in-chief, Roman Giertych, said that his party would work to enact a law allowing the government to retract the privatization of any previously state-owned firm that his party deemed unlawful, and demanded the support of the coalition partners. Which firms would be targeted, and whether the state would pay compensation to those it snatched these companies from is as yet unclear. No worries though. “The value of seized assets would be higher than potential compensation,” LPR deputy Wojciech Wierzejski guarantees.

Getting this law past a little thing called the Polish Constitution would prove a herculean task, but that matters little, as the proposed law has no chance of ever seeing the light of day. However, simply proposing it just might get enough LPR voters to the polls to keep them present in some local governments.

Not to be left out, Poland's premier pugi-populist, leader of Self-defense Andrzej Lepper, has decided to buy his votes the old fashioned way: with direct handouts from the budget. He wants the government to spend more than the zł.30 billion ceiling they've set for themselves on things like miners pensions and fuel subsidies for farmers. If they don't, he's threatened – again – to leave the coalition and force early elections.

“If there is not a pro-social budget...we will not approve it and this means early elections,” Lepper told public radio yesterday.

Of course, nobody actually expects him to go through with this plan. He's just making sure all the farmers know whose side he's on when it comes time to head to the polls. Seriously, how can anyone believe a word he's saying anymore?

How can anyone believe a word any of them say anymore?

And why do the Polish people keep falling for this?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Poland “Exporting Criminals” - European News Review

Is Poland using Western Europe as its own personal Australia?

In an article entitled “Why Polish Emigration is bad for Europe but good for Poland” an author writing for the European News Review accuses the Polish government of refusing to stop the flood of emigrants from Poland because it is helping them in the polls.
With lower unemployment there is less competition for jobs so this makes those who are actually looking for work in Poland happier. At the same time the Polish Government is able to use the lower unemployment figures to show that its policies are having a positive effect on the Polish economy.

The net result is that more of the Polish people are happy with the way the Polish government is running the country.

Many troublemakers and criminals have left Poland for Western Europe. The crime rate in Polish cities is down. See
The author cites an unavailable (just click on the link) article from the Irish Examiner to back up these claims. Regardless of the source's unavailability, from the wording of the sentence and link, it seems that rather than proving the outrageous claim that Poland is sending its worst seeds to contaminate the Western European lands, the author uses the Irish Examiner article to more back up the claim that crime in Poland is down.

Read more »

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Buy stuff you don't want to save Detroit

If he loses his pension, it's because you wouldn't buy an SUV

Is the American consumer to blame for Detroit's woes?

In a column featured in Monday's Detroit Free Press, Stephen Schiavi, a graduate of the University of Detroit and a retired teacher, says that Americans' unwillingness to buy gas-guzzling American-made SUVs and trucks is the equivalent of stabbing the Detroit blue-collar worker in the back.

His column mostly seems to be based on his experiences in a return visit to Detroit for a wedding, where he met several retired workers who were worried that their former employers wouldn't be able to meet their pension commitments. His concern for these folks' future is admirable, but his analysis of the problem is – to put it mildly – unadulterated protectionist nonsense.

The crux of his argument is this (emphasis mine):

In our quest to find cheap labor elsewhere, we have supported other countries becoming more productive, and that has advanced them economically. Therefore, we helped to implement the decline of our own economy.

A common affliction

Though he graduated from a good university, Mr Schiavi is quite clearly no economist. He suffers from a common affliction, however: believing that economic growth in one country necessarily corresponds to economic downturns in another.

The facts, of course, belie the problems of his argument. The US economy has been clipping along at a pace faster than developing economies like Poland, where GM, Ford, and associated manufacturing companies like Delphi have made significant investments over recent years. Most importantly, both economies were growing at a healthy rate of over five percent simultaneously. Poland's gain (for example) did not correspond to the US' loss.

Referring to American carmakers' problems with funding their pension commitments, Mr Schiavi notes, "This is not happening to the foreign automakers." Indeed. One of the biggest reasons for this difference is the fact that foreign auto makers moved more quickly to offset growing labor costs by moving production to countries outside their home market. I hope that he wouldn't deny American carmakers the opportunity to do likewise and remain competitive long enough to pay off those pensions.

Mea culpa

Admittedly, the US economy's growth took a dip this month that few were expecting. Could this have come as a result of Americans not buying enough Detroit cars?

As Detroit thrived, so, too, did America. Not anymore. As Detroit now suffers, so do we. Any industry associated with the manufacture, or lack thereof, of American cars and automobile equipment or accessories, will also suffer.

It's true enough that industries solely associated with the manufacture of American cars would take a hit due to the woes of Detroit's big car manufacturers, but few such industries exist. Let's please remember that car companies which we generally call "foreign" such as Toyota or Honda, actually produce many cars in America. As a result, the smart auto-parts producers have diversified their client base, and make products for "foreign" and domestic cars alike. Though their "American" clients may be buying less, their "foreign" clients are buying more. The Americans that these companies employ have secure jobs.

The figurative finger

Which brings us to another problem with Mr Schiavi's argument: By buying a Toyota or a Honda, American consumers are actually supporting American (though admittedly, not Detroit) workers. If by buying a Honda made in Alabama is showing the Detroit worker that "we don’t care about each other anymore," then isn't someone who buys a Ford Fusion – as his daughter plans to do – giving a figurative finger to that poor Alabama worker? What is a patriotic American-job supporting protectionist to do?

(Indeed, it seems from cursory research that Honda has an emissions lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What would happen to the high-tech jobs there – just the sort Michigan needs, by the way – if Americans were to stop buying Hondas?!)

No regrets

Mr. Shiavi trumpets that ever since being berated by Detroiters for driving a Honda, he has turned to American brands, specifically Ford, and has “never regretted” his purchase of an F-150. He implores others to do the same.

But the Ford F-150 is a gas-guzzler that damages the environment and is expensive to drive. Being retired, Mr Schiavi probably doesn't have to worry about commuting to work, nor driving the kids to school or soccer practice. That he chooses to spend more on gas is fine, but should he expect tight-budgeted families to take on a hugely expensive purchase in order to "support the Detroit worker"? Should he expect environmentally- conscious families to contribute to global warming in order to "respond to others' problems"?

In fact, the money these families save on things like gas when they buy "foreign" does not disappear. It is spent elsewhere – even on other American-based industries. It went, perhaps, towards buying a home computer – something which would have contributed to the recent boom in America's computer industry. Maybe it went towards buying more healthy locally-grown vegetables. Maybe it went towards a cafe latte from Starbucks, or Florida orange juice. Maybe it was invested in a local small business.

What goes around

By buying cheaper – or more efficient – goods, Americans earn more money to spend elsewhere and support different sectors of the economy. When American companies move jobs to Poland, it gives Poles a better opportunity to buy American goods – like the Opel make of GM cars here, which is becoming increasingly popular. Ford and GM planned poorly and produced products of little use to the American economy. Americans quite rightly invested their money better. Ford and GM have suffered for their mistakes, and let’s pray they’ve learned their lesson. Detroit will live on, the Detroit worker will live on.

As for the retirees who are caught in the crossfire, better to invest in better pension guarantee schemes and promoting private investment, than to throw our money away carelessly in the pursuit of a romantic economically patriotic ideal which hamstrings us from investing in something that would actually improve our lives.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Leaving the past in the past

German politician Erika Steinbach

... is an idea conservatives here in Central Europe sniff at

Yesterday evening an exhibition opened in Germany which focuses on the plight of Germans exiled from Central and Eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War II. The event was organized by German CDU politician Erika Steinbach, whose father who was a Silesian-born non-commissioned officer in the Luftwaffe. Steinbach is the head of the German Federation of Expellees, which has been demanding for some time that now-Polish lands confiscated from Germany by the Soviets be returned to German hands. Very few, except for the odd tooth-gnashing Polish politician, has ever paid them much heed.

One of those tooth-gnashing Polish politicians is the Prime Minister of Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński, who, as soon as he heard about the offending exhibition, took time out from his vacation at the Baltic seaside to visit nearby former Nazi concentration camp Sztutowo (Stutthof) where he told reporters, “It's important to remember who were the murderers and who were the victims.”

Another is former Prime Minister and current acting Mayor of Warsaw, PiS' Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, who has cancelled a trip to Berlin today in response to the opening of the exhibition (Polish link).

For her part, Mrs. Steinbach has said that she hopes the exhibition is the first step towards the creation of a permanent center recording the suffering of the expellees. That idea has been mooted for some time, and infuriates most Poles. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said such a center ought to be considered.

Making a point

Poles believe by portraying some Germans as victims of WWII, such a center would gloss-over or even challenge the idea of Germany as an aggressor during the war.

Steinbach's group believes the suffering of people who were forced to leave their homes as a result of the political machinations of post-war Europe ought to be documented.

Both have a point. Certainly some Germans who were exiled from western Poland at the hands of Soviet Russia must have been unsupportive of Hitler but were powerless to stop him. That Stalin forced them to leave their homes was cruel and unjust.

But the suffering of those few cannot be allowed to overshadow the crimes committed by the German state during the war. A center documenting the plight of expellees might be another useful reminder of how war tears lives apart – but it should not gloss over Germany's ultimate responsibility for WWII, and emphasize that it was Stalin, not Poland, who forced these people out of the land of their births.

Out of the question

Giving formerly German lands back to Germany however, ought to be out of the question. It would set a dangerous regressive precedent. If Silesia were returned to Germany, oughtn't Poland demand western Ukraine back? There would be a downward spiral of territorial disputation, and it's hard to see what good that would achieve.

My own personal view is that Europe started over at the end of World War II. That war was as cataclysmic for this continent as the Biblical Great Flood. When the water receded, it started from scratch. There is no use focusing on the wave-tossed past – though it ought to be remembered. Europe's gaze ought to be set on the future.

It's good then, that nobody important really takes the Federation of Expellees' proposal for reclaiming of German lands very seriously.

Nobody important, except, of course, the ruling party in Poland and some prominent politicians in Germany - all of whom, because of their fixation on Europe's past, are unable to look towards the continent's future.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Breaking the bank?

Are Poland's finances on the verge of unravelling?

Poland's finances seem to be going from bad to worse without Zyta Gilowska at the helm, though it's questionable as to whether she could have held up to the immense pressure from the populist elements of the governing coalition to spend public funds on everything from toddlers to tractor fuel. Since she's been gone however, the fiscal irresponsibility has become uncontrollable, with the Finance Ministry issuing a plethora of warnings that Poland won't be able to meet its budget commitments.

Budget blues

Yesterday, new Finance Minister Stanisław Kluza warned that Poland's budget deficit would exceed the 3% of GDP limit required by Europe's growth and stability pact by 2009 but would rather come in at 3.5%. This is important because the later Poland hits that target, the farther back Poland's entry into the euro zone will be pushed. Poland is still the only new EU member without a set target date for adopting the euro.

The government is having even more trouble than it expected covering this year's expenditures since all privatization activities have come to a virtual standstill. In today's Puls Biznesu, Deputy Treasury Minister Paweł Szałamacha revealed that privatization revenues for this year will equal around zł.1.2-1.5 billion – some four times less than last year.

Making up the difference

Without money flowing into the government's coffers from the sale of state assets, PiS had planned to make up the difference with dividends paid out from the profits state-owned companies. The state looked to collect a bumper crop of dividend payments this year, what with the banking sector (PKO BP), the oil sector (PKN Orlen), the IT sector (Prokom et. al), and the metals sector (KGHM – whose dividends the government forced higher, rather than allowing the investments the management wanted) all turning in fantastic profits. Unfortunately, with PKN Orlen's buyout of Mazeikiu for about zł.2 billion, the government is frantically trying to figure out where it will get the zł.530 million it had expected to squeeze out of Poland's largest company.

The government is now repositioning its rhetoric on the issue. Whereas earlier Treasury Minister Andrzej Jasiński had contended that "the" lost revenue from the slowdown in privatization would be made up by state-firm dividends, his deputy, Szałamacha, is now saying that the dividends will cover "part" of the lost income.

Where will the other "part" come from? We are left to presume that the state will simply take on more debt.

Ugly outlook

With continued unfettered state spending and wages being forced up due to the exodus of skilled workers, the złoty is bound to end its happy run of low inflation very soon. When that happens, Poland's biggest source of income – its exports – will slow significantly, and Poland will become less attractive as a low labor-cost investment destination. At that point the government will be forced to sell off state assets, now worth much less, since it will have hung onto them as long as possible, milking them of every last penny of profit. The deficit will continue to exceed 3% of GDP, keeping the euro – with its stability and trade-enhancing effects - far out of reach.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A dirtier-than-usual oil spill

Russia is punishing Polish oil giant PKN Orlen for barging in on what it sees as its energy-market turf

You may have overlooked it with all of the excitement over this week's shutdown of the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska, but there is actually another pipeline in need of repair that is holding up supplies and pushing up prices - on the other side of the world, in Russia. But while the reasons for BP's shutdown seem transparent enough - after a spill in March the Transportation Department demanded the pipeline be inspected, corrosion was subsequently found, and it was determined the pipeline must be replaced - the circumstances of the Russian spill and subsequent pipeline shutdown are altogether much more suspicious.

On July 29 a leak sprung from the Druzhba oil link near the border with Belarus. The leak occurred on a part of the pipeline which branches off toward Lithuania, delivering oil to the Maziekiu refinery, which Poland's PKN Orlen very recently bought after a hard-fought bidding war in a tender contested by Russia's TNK-BP, Lukoil, and Kazakh national oil and gas company, KazMunaiGaz.

The leak was stopped, but according to the International Herald Tribune, Russian authorities now say that the entire section of pipeline - 70 km (about 44 miles) - will have to be replaced entirely. That's not so surprising. What is surprising however is the timing and the placement of the leak, as well as the fact that that Russian officials expect the repairs to last at least 21 months. In contrast, BP estimates it will be able to replace most of the 22-mile section of the Alaskan pipeline in question within two to three months, reports the Associated Press.

From the International Herald Tribune:

"The timing of this accident is very strange," said Arunas Jievaltas, a senior diplomat at the Lithuanian Embassy in Warsaw. "It happened as Orlen was wrapping up negotiations to buy [Mazeikiu] Nafta refinery. Some would say that Russia is trying to show Poland that this is the price it must pay for obtaining [Mazeikiu]. It seems that every step which is taken by a Russian energy company is motivated by politics."

Some history is needed here. The stake in Mazeiku refinery which Orlen bought was originally owned by Russian-government Enemy Number One, Yukos, which sold the plant to free up capital to pay off back taxes owed to Moscow. Russia has long wanted to get its hands on Mazeikiu, as it would further strengthen Russian control over oil and gas to Europe, consolidate its power over energy supplies to former Soviet Union and satellite countries in Central and Eastern Europe, and push its energy empire even further into the West. When Yukos bought the refinery in 2002 those hopes were dashed, only to be raised again after the Russian government's harassment forced Yukos to sell.

It seemed Russia would have its cake and eat it too, by forcing Yukos to sell Mazeiku, pocketing the proceeds as owed taxes, and also gaining de-facto control over the refinery when earlier this year KazMunaiGas (which is heavily dependent on Russian-state-owned companies for investment in many of its most important projects) was tipped to win the tender. Later, the Lithuanian Prime Minister vowed that his government would make use of its pre-emptive right to buy Yukos' 54% stake before allowing it into the hands of Orlen.

"Orlen is not well known to us. Most doubt is caused by the ability of this company to supply oil to [Mazeikiu]. Some Russian oil companies clearly stated that no more oil would flow in this direction," - thus eliminating millions in tax revenue for the Lithuanian government, the Warsaw Business Journal reported back in March.

When Orlen upped the ante with a $1.5-billion offer for Yukos' shares in May, it seemed nothing could stop the deal, though the Russian government tried its best to delay the purchase indefinitely in New York courts. Finally however, Orlen's offer was too strong, and now the Lithuanian government is actually also in negotiations to sell its 30% stake to Orlen too.

Russia was incensed, and it now seems those "clear statements" referred to by the Lithuanian PM have become a reality. Russian officials insist the leak is just a wacky coincidence.

The shutdown has already taken a significant toll, however. Last week, Morgan Stanley sold its 2.6 million shares in Orlen, leading to a two-percent drop in Orlen's share price. The longer the refinery has to get its crude oil by ship rather than pipeline, the less competitive it will be.

So the questions that remain unanswered are: What caused this leak? Why will it take so long to fix it? And how long will Western governments allow Russia to distort the energy market in its quest for revenue, prestige, and power?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

We're all going to Hell

Check this out.

At first I thought it was a parody. I just found it searching around for oldies songs when I found this corny animation. For a laugh I followed the links at the bottom.

Wow. Has it come to this? When did this become what it meant to be a Christian?

The counter to the side is ticking off the number of people who have died since you opened this webpage. The vast majority of those people are entering Hell. Christ commanded his followers to share the Gospel with those who are perishing... who have you shared with today?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Widening the gap

At the beginning of this month the former director of EU affairs in Poland's foreign Ministry, Pawel Swieboda, caused a stir by claiming that the current government was causing Poland to lose influence in Brussels by focusing too much on internal politics. For the government, “EU affairs are a distant question,” Swieboda told the EUObserver.com website.

Later that week President Lech Kaczyński seemed to prove him at least half wrong with a sudden dive into EU political debate by voicing support for re-instituting the death penalty within the European Union. The statements have put Poland front and center on the EU's political agenda – but for all the wrong reasons. Rather than engaging the bloc, the President's proposal has widened the gap between Poland and the rest of the EU.

European Union officials took Kaczyński's suggestion as an affront of the highest order. “To suggest that [the death penalty's] reintroduction could in any sense represent a positive development would be a direct attack on our common values, which are founded on respect for the basic human dignity of every person,” said Rene van der Linden, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in an open letter to President Kaczyński.

As Mr. Swieboda might have predicted, the uproar had its origins in a domestic political affair. The right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR), realizing that it has negligible support in the country heading towards this autumn's local elections, decided to set off a media storm by pledging to put a referendum on the death penalty on this fall's ballot, hoping that the resulting hoopla would help boost poll numbers.

President Kaczyński may be playing LPR's game because he fears a breakup of the coalition if he doesn't, or he may genuinely believe the EU needs to reinstate the death penalty. Either way however, he knows full well that bringing back capital punishment would fly in the face of Poland's EU accession treaty, and that with such fierce opposition within Europe, the chances the for the success of his proposal were next to nil. So he must also have known that his words could have only driven the EU and Poland farther apart.

Though it is doubtful that this will have a negative effect on Poland's robust economic growth in the short term, isolating Poland from Europe will certainly not help the country when it comes to negotiating future aid packages or tax legislation in the EU. Moreover, at a time when Poland ought to be cultivating its tourism attractiveness, the President's proposal had the effect of giving foreigners yet another reason to consider Poland backward and reactionary. And it's hard to see how that serves Poland's interests either internationally or domestically.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

August 1st

Today, a history lesson

american expat piękna polska michigan, my michigan Pijemy po polsku - Kickin' it Polish style Warsaw Station on Feedburner subscribe to my feed my feed