Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Polish Government Takes Decisive Action

I especially enjoyed this little quote from an FT article by Jan Cienski about Polish music bands having problems attracting audiences because of the record migration of young Poles to western Europe.

The government has woken up to the population drain. A poster campaign compares young people who have decided to stay with veterans of the wartime underground.

Yeah, that will do it. Young people immediately react to posters that refer to WWII...

Former PM Living in Parallel Universe

"Dear great, extremely smart and all knowing journalists. I sincerely ask you to leave me along and to stop looking for something for me to do." This is how former Polish prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz starts his latest blog entry (in Polish). Frustrated? A little.

Looks like his successor and party boss Jaroslaw Kaczynski has come to his senses and decided no to squeeze the supervisory board at Eastern Europe's largest bank PKO BP to appoint Marcinkiewicz its new chief executive.

That is a smart move, considering the fact that Marcinkiewicz's appointment could ultimately be rejected by the banking supervisor because of his scant financial experience. This could erase any remaining credibility of the politically appointed supervisory board.

And this is where Marcinkiewicz enters a parallel universe. In his blog he writes that in the recent months he has not spoken to any members of PKO's supervisory board (except for its chair who is now the interim chief executive) nor any member of the banking oversight body. He adds: "So stop writing about political pressure because you're undermining my good name."

Whoa. Stop writing about political pressure? Which universe is Marcinkiewicz living in??? How else can you explain the fact that Marcinkiewicz is in any way being considered a serious candidate to run the country's biggest financial institution? How did this former physics teacher land a job as an adviser to the interim CEO? What else would explain talks about Marcinkiewicz taking another top post at a state-controlled company, like the oil group Lotos? [Marcinkiewicz says he does not plan to move outside of Warsaw, while Lotos is headquartered in Gdansk]

At least on the PKO side things are looking a little more sane. After a resignation of one of the more credible members of the supervisory board the competition for the top spot has been suspended. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, people close to Marcinkiewicz say his chances of running PKO are close to nil. Whew! For now.

UPDATE: The speaker of the lower chamber Marek Jurek said on the radio that Marcinkiewicz should be the head of PKO BP, but quickly added that the supervisory board should make its own decision. Nope, no political pressure here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Guide to Staying Away from Bad Movies

I'm a big movie fan and do my best to stay away from the plethora of crappy movies out there. But sometimes you get caught in the traps set by the evil marketing geniuses out there. Still, here's an interesting article to help avoid falling into their traps. It walks through all those sneaky strategies used to convince you to buy/watch awful movies. Enjoy. And for God's sake, stay away from those terrible films.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Just When You Thought Lepper-gate Can't Get Uglier

Lepper-gate, or Sex-gate, or whatever you call this mess in Poland, looks to be getting even uglier. With "Archbishop Spy" grabbing the headlines in the recent weeks (scandals seem to be coming from all directions in Poland nowadays), Lepper-gate has been mostly pushed into the back pages. But there have been some developments worth mentioning.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Deputy Prime Minister Lepper did not only go after the young female members of Self Defense, his party, like his right hand Stanislaw Lyzwinski. Lepper had his eyes on the wives of party members. At least two women testified that De Leader indicated that to help their husband's careers, they might want to consider a "pleasant moment" with him in bed.

On top of this, Lepper is now refusing to provide DNA samples to see whether he, and not Lyzwinski, was the father of a child of Aneta Krawczyk, the woman who was the first one to come out with accusations of wide spread sexual harassment at Self-Defense. Confusing? Yes. Ugly? Definitely.

So quite soon we should see the prosecutor's office coming out with charges against Lyzwinski and, very likely, against Lepper. So far, 110 people have testified in the investigation. Krawczyk's credibility was badly hurt when first DNA tests cleared Lyzwinski, but now at least ten women confirm sex-for-jobs accusations made by Krawczyk and three other women in Gazeta Wyborcza in December. Three of the 10 women accuse De Leader.

This is what the Kaczynski brothers get for brining in the dirtiest party (in more ways than one) into the government just to save the Duck Republic from early elections. But it's not the end just yet. The ruling PiS party is sending out smoke signals that even if Lepper is indicted, the party he created will remain in the cabinet. Lepper will also keep his hands in the pot with a role of the behind-the-scenes-puppeteer.

Hey, wait a minute... Doesn't PiS stand for Law and Justice??? How ironic. How sad.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Where's My Baggage?

If you fly a lot (and this blog's name is Traveling Life), then I recommend reading this handy Wall Street Journal article on what happens when your luggage disappears and what you should do in that unfortunate event.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cronyism at Its Worst

Polish papers are trumpeting the impending change at the top of PKN Orlen, central Europe's largest oil company. The Kaczynski twins are pushing another less-than-qualified crony to run a leading Polish company thanks to the government's golden share. He will replace a much more qualified manager. When I wrote about this to my friend Piotrek, a keen observer of Polish business, here's how he replied:

It's just another day in Duck republic. Ryanair probably can't keep up with the demand for one-way tickets to Ireland and Britain. Its cronyism at its worse, my friend.

I could not have put it better. I know that each political appointee has an army of advisers to make sure he doesn't screw up too much. But at some point we have to ask when the sheer incompetence of political appointees will hurt these companies beyond short-term repair. The nationalistic Kaczynski twins are hurting the national champions they are trying to promote. This is how we run Duck Republic, Inc.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Comments from Readers - Bring 'Em On!

I'm glad to say this blog has some loyal readers who are nice enough to share their thoughts about Poland and other issues. I bow to all of you and hope you'll continue to write. I'll be happy to post your notes here.

Here's one long essay from Mikhail. A lot of his opinions are near opposites of mine, but please take a look.

From an American's point of view, the current political situation in Poland is fascinating; it seems to teeter at the edge of chaos in fact... (click for full article)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Scaling New Levels of Incompetence in Poland

Poland has a new central bank governor. His name is Slawomir Skrzypek and is completely unqualified for the job. Here's a quote from the Financial Times:

In a parliamentary hearing earlier this week, Mr Skrzypek had some difficulties answering MPs' questions, and confused the deceased Wim Duisenberg with Jean-Claude Trichet, the head of the European Central Bank since 2003, when asked for the names of central bankers with whom he would have to work.

More on Mr. Skrzypek. He never finish his degree at the Warsaw School of Economics and his MBA comes from an obscure US university in Wisconsin. His only qualification is being in the pocket of President Lech Kaczynski.

All it took is another political backroom deal. One more political appointment celebrating incompetence in the Duck Republic.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Another Remake of a Polish Classic?

The fictional story of Nikodem Dyzma, a clever nobody who rockets to the top of the Poland's social and political world, has been part of the Polish psyche for decades. There are three movie versions of the book written in 1932, which I'd guess is a record for Polish remakes. I even gave my mom a box set of two of the versions for Christmas.

And now thanks to a posting on the clever Polish blog Kurczeblade (Pale Chicken), I realize that we might be seeing yet another remake of Nikodem Dyzma in real life in the person of Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. OK, OK, so he already was the prime minister for a few months, even though he had quite a thin political CV. Now he's being quickly prepared to take over Poland's largest bank PKO BP, despite his even more scant financial experience. Funny enough, Nikodem Dyzma held both posts in the book, except in reverse.

Here's a parody from YouTube (in Polish):

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Corruption Among Post-Communists

A few years ago, an up-and-coming member of the post-Communist SLD party was asked what his goals are as a politician in Poland. His answer? "I want to become a millionaire within a couple years and a multi-millionaire down the line." Nothing about helping Poland, making things better. Not a snippet of idealism. (Forgive my naivety)

And no wonder. SLD, a successor of the repressive communist party that controlled Poland for decades, was brimming with corruption. It seemed to be full of two types of people: the old commies and the new careerist just ready to grab power and take advantage of it.

Today's Dziennik is running a great piece of investigative journalism which unveils, at least in a small part, of how things worked when SLD was in power just a few years ago. According to an article by Robert Zielinski (link in Polish), a company registered by the daughter-in-law of Leszek Miller, who headed the SLD-led cabinet, made a whopping 4.3 million zloty (around $1.5 million) on a sale of a stake in Internet portal Wirtualna Polska, without investing a penny. The stake was bought from a Polish investor and later unloaded to a mysterious firm registered in the Bahamas.

There's a lot more to this story, and I hope more will come out. But an investigation into this has been going on for years, so I won't hold my breath.

And don't forget that Miller ultimately lost his post in large part because of another sleaze scandal involving a bribery shakedown by one of his cronies.

It's just a shame that the current government never really followed up on promises of cleaning up corruption. There's still plenty young people looking to make millions through politics.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Caribbean Travel - Other Media Outlets On the Case

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I wrote an investigative piece more than a month ago on annual trips to the Caribbean region by Congressional Democrats led by powerful Charles Rangel. In the article, I pointed out that Rangel did not file a required travel disclosure form for his 2005 trip. I also discussed the fact that the trip is sponsored by many big corporations, even though the Congress members who attended have not listed them on their disclosure forms.

Now other media outlets have also gotten on the case. USA Today published an article on Rangel along the lines discussed in my article, but discussing last year's trip. And House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct told at least one of the Congressional participants of the 2006 trip to list all of the corporate sponsors on the disclosure form. Here's a note from

Confusion Still Exists in November 2006 Travel Reports 12/19/2006

Rep. David Scott and spouse, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and her sister, Rep. Gregory Meeks and spouse, Rep. Sanford Bishop and spouse, Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, and Rep. Donald Payne took a free trip to Panama City, Panama, compliments of the Carib News Foundation. Their reports were just filed and one included a letter from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct indicating that all the sponsors of the trip, not just the Carib News Foundation, should be listed on the Members travel forms. This would include Macy’s, Pfizer, AT&T, Citibank, IBM, American Airlines, Golden Krust Franchises, Jerk Qzine, Panama City, and the Republic of Panama. These were not included on the Members’ travel reports.

An October 6, 2006 working copy of the agenda lists AT&T /Macy’s sponsoring the sessions on “Unlocking New Regional Opportunities and Expanding Business Horizons.” AT&T was also listed for a session on “Technology – The Engine of Invention”. Pfizer was listed for sessions on “Health Care – a strong investment and growth center for the economy,” and “Health Care Regional Initiatives.” Citibank was listed for the session on “Regional Economic Collaboration,” and the session on Entrepreneurship – The Next Level.”

I filed my article before the 30-day filing window was over, so I had seen none of the disclosure forms nor the note from the committee.

Quick Internship Before Running the Show

Former Polish PM Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz has started on his short path to get the top job at Poland's (if not Eastern/Central Europe's largest) bank PKO BP. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, he is taking on a job of an adviser to the interim chief executive. This quick "internship" seems to be a charade to soon hand Marcinkiewicz the top job at PKO in an official (and likely rigged) selection process. Marcinkiewicz, who up to this point had no financial experience and wouldn't spot a ROE if it jumped in his face, has already said he will take part in the "competition."

Perhaps to indicate how happy the current staff at PKO is about his imminent ascendancy, Marcinkiewicz got an office on the 13th floor.

Welcome to the new Poland, where old corrupt system is being replaced by new corrupt system. Yet another indication of the failure of the Kaczynski brothers to follow up on their main goal of stumping out corruption.