The Flying Kaczyński Brothers

by Henry on June 19, 2007

I’m just back from a conference/research trip to Europe, where this recent “piece”:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20331 by Adam Michnik in the _New York Review of Books_ was recommended to me by an expert in Polish affairs as an indispensable account of the KaczyÅ„ski regime and its lustration law. Regardless of the underlying debate about whether or not former collaborators should be made to reveal their actions, Michnik’s piece makes for grimmish reading:

But the lustration law was only one act among many in a systematic effort by the ruling Law and Justice party and its supporters to undermine the country’s democratic institutions. Since their election victory in 2005, the KaczyÅ„skis and their governing coalition have attempted to blur the separation of powers in order to strengthen the executive branch they control. … In the ministries and state institutions, numerous civil servants have been summarily replaced by unqualified but loyal newcomers. The independence of the mass media—especially of public radio and television— was curtailed by changes in personnel instigated by the government and by pressures to control the content of what was published and broadcast. The KaczyÅ„ski administration’s efforts to centralize power have limited both the activities of the independent groups that make up civil society and the autonomy of local and regional government. …

Today, Poland is ruled by a coalition of three parties: post-Solidarity revanchists of the Law and Justice party; post-Communist provincial trouble-makers of the Self-Defense Party; and the heirs of pre–World War II chauvinist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic groups that form the League of Polish Families. That coalition is supported by Radio Maryja, a Catholic nationalist radio station and media group that is fundamentalist both in its ethnic Polish nationalism and its commitment to Polish Catholic clericalism…. The Constitutional Court stood up to its responsibilities and, after repeated government efforts to postpone the court’s session and to impeach its judges, it reviewed the new law and found it unconstitutional.

As my informant notes, the KaczyÅ„ski brothers have not themselves indulged in anti-Semitic rhetoric. Furthermore, their distrust and suspicion of the intentions of Germany (more on this when I write about the EU Treaty negotiations) is to some extent justified – the German government has shown itself entirely too willing to sell its eastern neighbours out in order to keep Russian gas flowing. Even so, there’s something decidedly creepy and worrying about their apparent willingness to trample over civil liberties in order to go after their enemies.

The Wild East

by Chris Bertram on June 19, 2007

I experience all kinds of odd reactions on reading Kate Brown’s “review of three books about the Gulag”:http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25340-2645702,00.html in the TLS. She writes about some horrific events (starving prisoners abandoned on a island) but the general impression is not of the Gulag as I’d come to imagine it. True, this is the early system, circa 1933, but what the books Brown is writing about depict is something that calls to mind the British transportation of their undesirables to Australia, or, perhaps, ethnic deportations like the Trail of Tears. Deportees sent to the frontier to build a new life, and issued with guns to protect themselves from polar bears! Escapees running riot and terrifying the locals. And deluded managers in Moscow issuing orders to well-meaning subordinates in the distant east and giving them problems to solve but not the resources to cope. Read the whole thing, as they say.

Out of The Mouths of Babes

by Belle Waring on June 19, 2007

My little daughter Violet was playing that she had a loose tooth the other day. “let’s pretend you put it under the pillow and the Tooth Fairy brings you money”, I suggested. “Don’t be silly, mommy. The Tooth Fairy can’t bring you money.” “What does she bring you, then.” She looked at me, exasperated at my tomfoolery: “she brings you adult teeth!” Hmm, that is more plausible.

This afternoon Zoë asked me in the elevator why most Barbies have blonde hair, and I said it’s the most popular sort of Barbie, but they do come in other colors. “I think that’s not good,” she said. “Because most people have brown or black hair, and brown eyes, and different colors of skin. If somebody wasn’t very smart and they played with those blonde Barbies they might think that they can’t be pretty. That makes me feel weird. Next time if we get a Barbie I want her to have brown skin and black hair like LeAnn, or dark skin like Fope.” Yay Zoë! This was music to my ears compared to the time I overheard her playing that the biggest Russian nesting doll was so fat that she couldn’t wear any nice clothes, and then she went away and lost weight and came back as Barbie. Great, let’s just get the eating disorder started now!

The euro and the dollar

by John Quiggin on June 19, 2007

The appreciation of the euro against the dollar has taken the currency close to its highest value ever around $1.35. By contrast, the rate estimated as Purchasing Power Parity by the Penn World Tables International Comparisons Project (ICP) is around $1.00 for most eurozone countries (It’s 1.10 for Italy, 1.05 for France and Germany, 0.96 for the Netherlands. The price differential between eurozone countries is interesting in itself, but that’s another post).

A gap of this magnitude between market exchange rates and estimated PPP values raises all sorts of problems. For example, using the Penn numbers, income per person in the Netherlands is about 75 per cent of that in the US, and this number is often quoted on the assumption that purchasing-power parity means exactly what it says. But using exchange rates, as would have been standard a couple of decades ago, income per person is a little higher in the Netherlands than in the US. Which of these comparisons, if either, is valid?

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