Monday, April 12, 2010

Mystery still surrounds cause of Polish air tragedy

POLISH INVESTIGATORS say they have uncovered no evidence that Polish president Lech Kaczynski demanded that his pilot make a fatal crash landing in fog last Saturday.

Russian authorities confirmed yesterday that they had identified the body of Polish first lady Maria Kaczynska, who died along with her husband and 94 others in the air crash near the western Russian town of Smolensk.

Her remains will be flown home today, a day after those of Mr Kaczynski. The deceased president will lie in state from today at the presidential palace in Warsaw ahead of a state funeral on Saturday.

Mystery persists about why the aircraft clipped trees and crashed in flames after Russian tests yesterday revealed no mechanical defects.

Polish authorities say the aircraft had been fitted recently with new electronic equipment and the engine had been overhauled. But diplomats familiar with the aircraft have questioned why Warsaw still used a Soviet-built Tupolev 154 “badly in need of replacement”.

“It’s hard to understand how we are involved in costly missions in Afghanistan and Iraq but are unable for years to equip our [leaders] with proper planes,” said Prof Roman Kuzniar, an international affairs analyst at Warsaw University.

That has all turned the spotlight back on Mr Kaczynski. Asked whether the pilot was pressurised to land by the president, Poland’s chief prosecutor, Andrzej Seremet, said yesterday: “At the current level of the investigation we have no such information.”

After flight recorders revealed nothing unusual, Russian investigators said yesterday they had moved on to the voice recorders.

Mindful of the continuing week of mourning, Polish media have not dared even raise the possibility that Mr Kaczynski had a role in the crash. But the Russian media have recalled how, in 2008, Mr Kaczynski demanded that a pilot land his aircraft in Tblisi in the middle of the Georgian war; the pilot refused and diverted.

A Russian flight expert suggested in the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily that the crash was caused by “VIP passenger syndrome”. But this was dismissed by a colleague of Arkadiusz Protasiuk, the crash pilot.

“He was a tough man who wouldn’t let emotions prevail over common sense,” said Tomasz Pietrzak, another government pilot, on Polish radio. “He would certainly not risk passengers’ lives.”

The crash has also prompted reflection in political circles about whether the incident might have been the indirect consequence of years of competition between the president and Polish prime minister Donal Tusk.

Last Wednesday, Mr Tusk flew to Katyn for a memorial service with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Feeling snubbed at not being invited, Mr Kaczynski, from a competing party, organised a competing event on Saturday to remember the 22,000 Polish soldiers massacred at Katyn in 1940.

“As a consequence of the crash, this unfortunate situation may finally be at an end,” said Andrzej Maciejewski, political analyst of the Sobieski Institute think tank.

Mr Kaczynski’s office published his final, undelivered speech yesterday, in which he paid tribute to the Katyn soldiers and the families who kept their memory alive, and condemned the Soviet cover-up as “the founding lie of the [communist] People’s Republic of Poland”. But the president, known for his anti-Russian tirades, saved his final words to thank Moscow for its assistance ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.

The undelivered words carry additional poignancy now: “Let’s allow the Katyn wound to finally heal,” he planned to say. “We are already on the path; we should follow it to bring our nations closer and not stop or retreat.”

Mr Maciejewski of the Sobieski Institute said: “In future we will be able to distinguish between pre-April 10th Polish-Russian relations and post-April 10th.”

Source:Poland Twitter

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Polish President Kaczynski was nationalist, pro-US

WARSAW, Poland — Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who died Saturday in a plane crash in Russia, was a one-time anti-communist activist who teamed up with his twin brother to take his country in a nationalist, conservative direction.

Kaczynski, 60, pursued a strongly pro-U.S. line in foreign relations, in accordance with a cross-party consensus that has grown in Poland since the fall of communism. He was an enthusiastic backer of plans to site a U.S. missile defense facility in the country, the largest of the European Union's new eastern members.

However, the prickly nationalism of Kaczynski and his identical twin brother, Jaroslaw — who served for a time as prime minister and is now opposition leader — sometimes complicated ties with European neighbors and Russia.

The president, for example, long held out against the EU's so-called Lisbon reform treaty before signing it last November. Still, his appeal at home rested partly on his forthright representation of Polish views and his tough stance on law and order.

Kaczynski first rose to fame as a child movie star alongside his identical twin in a hit movie in 1962, "Two Who Stole the Moon," about two troublemakers who try to get rich by stealing the moon and selling it. That was the end of their film career, however.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Kaczynski brothers were activists in the anti-communist opposition and went on to serve as advisers to Solidarity founder Lech Walesa.

Kaczynski supported Walesa's presidential bid in 1990 and became the chief presidential adviser on security issues. His cooperation with Walesa later ended in acrimony over political differences, and Walesa was defeated in 1995 by ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Kaczynski served as Poland's justice minister in 2000-2001, and his tough stance against crime laid the foundations for the popularity that would fuel his later rise to the presidency.

He became mayor of Warsaw in 2001, and won respect for a no-nonsense style and plain-speaking reputation.

His opponents, however, viewed him as narrow-minded, provincial and overzealous in his drive to cleanse the country of the influence of former communists. And he drew criticism from human rights groups for trying to stop a gay-rights parade through Poland's capital.

In seeking the presidency in 2005, he made clean government a key pledge — a promise that resonated after a string of corruption scandals that saw ex-communists swept from power.

"Our country needs renewal, the renewal of public life," Kaczynski has said.

Kaczynski's popularity declined as head of state, however. In 2007, his identical twin brother was voted out as prime minister after a two-year stint in which he failed to hold together a shaky coalition with small, unpredictable populist parties.

The government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk — the man Kaczynski beat for the presidency — has gained respect for avoiding a recession at the depths of the economic crisis and for a smoother foreign policy. Kaczynski faced an uphill struggle to win re-election later this year.

Kaczynski was a firm friend of Poland's Jewish community, which has enjoyed a revival in recent years after it was nearly wiped out in the Holocaust and later suffered from communist-era repression.

In 2008, he became the first head of state to attend a religious service at a synagogue in Poland. As mayor, he promoted a planned museum on Jewish history by donating city land to the project.

Kaczynski was killed along with wife, Maria, an economist. He is survived by the couple's daughter, Marta; two granddaughters, Ewa and Martyna; his twin brother, Jaroslaw; and the twins' mother, Jadwiga.

Source: AFP

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

News lobby for sell

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Health Care Lobbying now a Chronic Condition in Washington

More money doled out by the government, now via the new health care legislation, means greater amounts of lobbying by Wall Street for the dough. By further centralizing the system we have merely enriched the incumbent politicians and businesses. Only moving forward towards a free market in health care can we put the medical dollar back in the patient’s pocket. Who else could better control the money than the people who earned it?


Debate on dirty word: 'lobbyist'

Democrats in Maryland, worried about a punishing election-year climate, want voters thinking of something more damning than "incumbent" when they go to the polls.

Their preferred enemy: the lobbyist.

The strategy became clear last week when former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. confirmed that he wants to unseat Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley. The message from O'Malley's campaign: Voters will have a choice between a sitting governor who made tough decisions in a down economy and an ousted opponent turned high-priced lobbyist for corporate interests.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said he has seen a similar tactic deployed across the country because "the word 'lobbyist' is poisonous with the voters."

"The very idea of it conjures up special favors and bribery and dirty tricks," he said. "It's not a fair image, obviously, but try convincing voters of that."

But there's a flaw in the Democrats' argument. Ehrlich is not exactly a lobbyist.

Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, the North Carolina law firm that has employed him for three years, lists Ehrlich as a government affairs specialist - typically a fancy way of saying lobbyist - and says on its Web site that his Maryland team "has the access to ensure that our clients' interests are represented in legislative debates at the state, local and federal levels."

Ehrlich is not registered as a lobbyist at the state or federal levels, however, and said he does not meet with his former colleagues in Congress or the State House to push legislation. None of the 21 other employees in Womble's Baltimore office lobbies either, he said.

Instead, Ehrlich calls himself a "rainmaker" hired to be "the face of the firm." His daily duties, he said, include "speeches, coffees, dinners, lunches, meetings."

He has not disclosed his earnings, which registered lobbyists in Annapolis and Washington are required to do under disclosure laws.

Henry Fawell, Ehrlich's longtime spokesman who works with him at Womble, said the former governor's job is to "utilize his network of contacts in the private sector to bring new clients to the firm." In other words, Fawell said, after Ehrlich gets a client in the door, another Womble employee - typically someone based in Washington - takes over the account.

A "sample client list" for the Baltimore office, provided by Fawell, includes medical companies, banks and builders. Among them: A&G Pharmaceutical, Precision Antibodies, SunTrust Bank, Brown Advisory, Dustin Construction and Canam Steel Corp. Citing attorney-client privilege, Ehrlich and others in the office have declined to describe the nature of the work.

Baltimore developer David S. Cordish hired Womble last year to help with community relations as he pushed for a state license and local zoning to build a casino in Anne Arundel County, but Ehrlich said he did not work on the project and the relationship is now over. Womble was also retained to work with BAA Maryland, which manages concessions at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

To call Ehrlich a "big-spending politician turned special-interest lobbyist," as O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell did last week when the former governor said he is running, "is not just wrong, it's willfully misleading," Fawell said.

Travis Tazelaar, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, acknowledges he has no evidence that Ehrlich has been lobbying, but argued that "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's gotta be a duck." He called Ehrlich's description of his work at Womble "murky" and "shady."

Added Isaac Salazar, the state Democratic Party's spokesman: "Ehrlich was a member of Congress. There are lots of phone calls he can make. It's hard to believe his activity stopped once a client came in the door."

"If he would answer our questions and tell us what's going on, maybe we wouldn't have any reason to call him a lobbyist," Tazelaar said.

Democrats are doing more than making polite inquiries.

Last week, the Maryland Democratic Party released what it said were the results of a poll of 400 Republican voters, testing arguments about Ehrlich's record and recent activities. The survey asked, for example, if voters' attitudes would change if they knew that "Bob Ehrlich has spent the last three years working as a lobbyist for state contractors, gaming interests and foreign governments like China." Thirty-one percent of Republicans surveyed said yes, according to the Democrats.

Party officials have also filed formal complaints about the intersection of Ehrlich's campaign, his work at Womble and his media appearances, including his weekly talk show on WBAL radio. Last week, they submitted to the FCC Ehrlich's on-air objections to new taxes on medical devices levied in the national health care reform bill. The Democrats called his words "payola," noting that Womble represents companies that manufacture the devices.