The Alternative President

It’s been 72 hours since The Donald was sworn in as the 45th US president and it is already clear that the next three-to-four years are going to be. So. Much. Fun.

I mean, yes, it will not be pleasant, to say the least. But the US will recover. Let’s not forget just how indignant the same crowd (more or less) was when Dubya was appointed president in 2000. Many people were freely using the term coup d’etat at that point. And indeed, this has brought at least two wars, human suffering beyond belief and an economic catastrophe of biblical proportions. True, it wasn’t all George W.’s responsibility and when shit hit the fan economically, it was the black man left holding the bag, but there you go.

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9 Upsides Of A Trump Victory

The Donald. Who would have thought. Well, the alt-right did, apparently, which makes them the next Nate Silver, I guess. Good luck with that. The next few days and weeks will be fun as the entire media and political bubble simultaneously tries to come to terms with a Trump presidency and their own misjudgements and miscalculations.

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The First Couple-elect (source)

For what it’s worth, pengovsky did maintain that in politics a week is a long time and that the race will be close but yes, I did expect Clinton to ultimately prevail. So maybe it’s best that initial analyses are left to others. Football bloggers seem like a good option.

Having said that, there are a few upsides to the entire connundrum

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Of Morons and Ministers

After the parliament voted to dismiss defence minister with a 68-11 vote, Janko Veber’s very own Social Democrats predictably decided not to leave the ruling coalition, regardless. And while the debate, most of it held behind closed doors under the pretext of confidential information being used, proved that security issues were indeed secondary and that the real fight was about sale of Telekom Slovenije, the whole political clusterfuck amounted to little more than a storm in a very leaky tea-cup. Namely, the company in question is not as sought for as some wanted and other feared. On Monday, only one binding offer for Telekom was submitted and – adding insult to injury – it wasn’t the Jerrys. It was, in fact, a British investment fund Cinven.

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Telekom Slovenije (TSLG) share in the past year (source: Ljubljana Stock Exchange)

In all honesty, this was in fact more than just a political dust-up as tensions did flare high and the parliament debated Veber’s dismissal. The exact content of the debate is unknown, that being closed session and all, but word on the street has it that Veber and Cerar were ripping each other a new one. Which also explains why the public was excluded. Apparently, there was next to nothing confidential info mentioned in a five-hous-plus long debate but the whole thing was an ugly sight to see and the coalition, especially the SMC wanted to avoid that. But in the end, this was not the coalition-toppling earthquake many have speculated or indeed wanted it to be.

Implosion of Janko Veber

Politically speaking, this was a marginal victory for PM Miro Cerar. Not because he would have done a marvelous job of treading this particular issue, but mostly because Veber fucked up only days before the parliament session. Just as he was gaining some ground on Cerar, he threatened the prime minister with criminal charges on a count of destabilizing country defences, basically telling the PM he should be put on trial for high treason. With that Veber went into self-destruct mode, just revving up the rhetoric and not substantiating it with, well, anything. To put it in Top Fun terms, his ego was writing checks his body couldn’t cash.

Veber’s spectacular implosion overshadowed a just as equally embarrassing event. Namely, just as Veber moved to defenestrate Veber, the newly minted science, sport and education minister Klavdija Markež stepped on a landmine in the form of her masters’ thesis being mostly plagiarized. Which turned out to be true and prompted her immediate resignation, only five days after she had been nominated to the position. A huge embarrassment for Cerar as Markež’s predecessor Setnikar Cankar was dismissed for excessive earnings, tainting the clean image of PM Cerar and his party.

But in the end, it was the SD which blinked. And for good reason. If the party followed the path its VP had set, it would have found itself in opposition together with the United Left (ZL). Which would be bad news for SD as the ZL has the same number of deputies and are much better at being the rabid opposition party than the SD ever was. Not to mention the vast ground-network the SD has to maintain which costs money. Not to mention all the debt the party has incurred over the years and is now struggling to repay. And it’s much harder to do that when you’re in the opposition. Just as the once-mighty LDS. What’s left of it, anyway.

Minister for agriculture and defence

As a result, Slovenia is now in a mildly bizarre situation where it’s government in effect has a minister for agriculture and defence as Dejan Židan, SD’s main honcho temporarily took on defence portfolio as well. Technically, this set-up can last six months at the longest (three months, plus one three-months extension, as per law).

This is not the first time defence department was attached to another sitting minister, however. Years ago, under one of Drnovšek governments, the legendary PM, during one of his defence-minister-voes simply appointed science minister Lojze Marinček. An overall joyous character, the professor-turned-politician took the role in stride and went around official functions (which usually included then-president Milan Kučan) running around asking “has anyone seen my Commander-in-Chief?” and generally making light of the embarrassingly protracted situation.

To their credit, the SD said they will come with a suitable candidate sooner than in six months. although what passes as a “suitable candidate” in this day and age is debatable, to be honest.

Homo homini minister (of defence)

But as if one (former) defence minister making a fool out of himself wasn’t enough, his predecessor (many times removed) had to add his two cents. Or whatever the fuck his measure of monetary value is. Namely, while Veber, or more precisely, his social media manager was doing his best to make his case on Twitter (and failing badly), at some point he responded to a tweet by Janez Janša who accused Veber of lying with regard to secure locations used by the army. Veber replied with some sort of  rebuttal upon which Janša replied with calling Veber a moron. Literally.

While Janša might have actually had a point (at the very least is takes one to know one) the ease with which elected officials, senior political leaders at that, dig new lows in public communication is flabbergasting. Perhaps this is the result of Janša slipping ever more into irrelevance and being unable to do anything about it, but it does explain just why exactly fewer and fewer people want to have anything to do with him. Case in point being the NSi, which stands to reap benefits from what has since been dubbed The Veberkom Affair.

Last week Janša floated the idea of a shadow government, inviting anybody who would join, to well, join. The “everybody” was of course limited to the NSi, the only other opposition party on the political right-wing and the NSi said “thanks, but no thanks”. Janša took the rejection badly (as he always does) and threatened the rejectors will pay a heavy price for it. The truth, however, is that the NSi can in the long run only profit from its newfound spine. Indeed, they will most likely push for some sort of concessions from PM Cerar on issues dear to them. This will probably include but will not be limited to legislation regarding post-war grave-sites, an issue Cerar has already hinted he is willing to meet them at least half way.

And all of a sudden, nobody is in a hurry to sell the Telekom. Even the NSi, disappointed that there was only one offer (more likely: disappointed Deutsche Telekom did not bid), now say it might be prudent to halt the sale. The PM’s office, wisely, is not commenting on the ongoing procedures, but it seems that the political parties at large see the sale of Telekom in terms of short-term income, either for the budget or for party coffers and not in terms of what is best for the company.

For what it’s worth…

In fact, the current political elite is behaving as your average Slovenian small-time entrepreneur, valuing his business by the time and money he invested and not by what other people are willing to pay for it (i.e. it’s market value). As if we learned nothing from the numerous false starts of sale of Mercator retail chain resulting in the final price-tag being only a fraction of what it used to be or from the so-called Brewery Wars, which have led to rise and fall of Boško Šrot of Laško Brewery and, ultimately to the sale of the company for only good 50% more what Laško paid for Union ten years ago to monopolize the beer market in Slovenia.

Thus, the expectations that the value of Telekom Slovenije will rise on its own, are naive at least and the share price reflects that. It has been in a free-fall for the better part of the last two weeks and has rebounded slightly only today. A company which has not released an innovative product of its own for the better part of the decade, has spread itself too thin across the region only so see itself rolling back Balkan operations in the past few years and is being dragged through courts for allegedly abusing its market positions will require much more than just responsible management and ownership to increase its value. Since the state has, unfortunately, repeatedly failed to provide either (with a few notable exceptions far between), there is no compelling reason for the sale not to be realised, pending negotiations.

Unless, of course, the political elite suddenly wants to prove Janko Veber right.

 

 

Your Country Wants YOU To Be Her Taxman

Strictly speaking, this write-up isn’t political, but this being Slovenia and all, politics is never far away. As you might or might not know, government of Alenka Bratušek increased VAT 2 percentage points, from 20 to 22 percent amid cries of adding to the economic slump. Now, truth be told, Bratušek and her finance minister Čufer are somewhat caught between a rock and a hard place. The budget is screwed up and in dire need of rebalancing which is happening as you read this. Instead of an across-the-board slashing of the public sector, Bratušek opted for the slippery-slope approach of gradually reducing wages in the public sector and increasing taxes as well as introducing new ones. The VAT increase is the initial step, to be followed by a proper real-estate tax (cue property owners including the Roman Catholic Church going ape-shit) and a still-lingering option of special crisis-tax. To name but a few.

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…to be her taxman.

But beyond the normal ripples of you’ll-pry-this-money-from-my-cold-dead-hands, none of this cause any special uproar. OK, maybe the property tax is yet to do this, because two things are sacred to a Slovenian. His house and his car. Both of which are usually slightly above his means. What is making rounds for the past two days, however, is a programme by the Tax Administration to have citizens send in photos of invoices they receive via MMS messages. That’s right. In the age of Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus (ok, maybe not the last one), the TaxAdmin opted for a 20 year old tech to turn people into snitches. I guess they went for quantity rather than quality.

Now, some people (@had included went slightly ga-ga over this, especially since the TaxAdmin is not a particularly small government agency. And is about to get bigger still, with the Customs officers being transferred from the border with Croatia to various posts within the TaxAdmin. However, the outrage is totally misplaced.

After all, even today, the Slovenian political class likes to wear the snitch-jacket when it breaks bread with a ranking US diplomat, to give an example at random. I mean, we’ve been doing this for decades. When Fascist took over in 1941, snitching was aplenty. When Communists took over in 1945, snitching on your neighbour was a favourite past-time activity to settle old scores. And when Capitalists took over in 1990, the same thing was happening all over again. And so on and so forth.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is simply a relatively well-aimed but poorly executed attempt to tap into this nation’s snitching reflex.

 

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Trouble In Paradise

It’s the silly season and it shows. News is slow and it mostly consists either of Olympics, the continuation of eurozone crisis or wildfires. That and the ever louder coalition quarrels. In fact, days ago things got a bit ugly. And then some.


Picture almost unrelated (source)

While it has become customary for politicos to scuffle on Twitter along the coalition/opposition lines, friendly fire is much less common. An example of the former we could witness today, shortly after Police Commissioner Janko Goršek (the top cop) announced that he was leaving the post on 1 October. What is most probably a case of you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit! was more or less expected ever since Janša 2.0 came into existence. Police is too important a system to be left unto its own devices, no? You gotta have party hacks reliable people running it, if your boss is on trial for corruption charges and was somewhat humiliated by appearing on a TV show whose anchor was arrested a day later on blackmail charges.

Never the less produced a lively exchange between interior minister Vinko Gorenak and his immediate predecessor Aleš Zalar (who was acting minister after Katarina Kresal resigned in August 2011). Zalar tweeted that with this Gorenak is probably ready for interpelation proceedings while Gorenak shot back whether Zalar might be helping the opposition in drafting the document. It went downhill from there, with Gorenak finally tweeting that he only deals with Zalar as a sort of a hobby. Which can come across rather kinky, if you look at it from the right perspective 😉

But this is just a sideshow, albeit one with nasty effects coming later in the year. The real shit was happening between Janez Janša‘s SDS and Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List. The two coalition parties entered a bit of a turf war over who gets to appoint whom in various state-owned firms with SDS aiming to share as few spoils as possible. Virant made his displeasure known and earned a retort on official SDS Twitter account saying that “Virant can not pass a microphone without uttering stupidites”. Which is a nasty thing to say to the president of the parliament, especially if he’s your coalition partner.

But the real shocker came a week later. Contrary to all expectations, the government rejected draft budgets for 2012 and 2013, instructing minister of finance Janez Šušteršič (number two honcho in Virant’s party) to go back to the old drawing board. This was complemented with an official SDS tweet asking how can the finance minister be absent for a budget session of the cabinet

Now… In all fairness, the government is fully entitled to reject any draft document. It is what it does. Rejects and accepts. Furthermore, it is unusual for a minister to be absent when his documents are debated. But it has happened before. That’s why we have State Secretaries. To stand in when minister is not available. Also, given that state finances across Europe at this time look more like guess-work than real accounting, the rejection could be considered just a change of plans. However, the fact that Šušteršič is the architect of this government’s austerity plan and knows more about finances than the rest of the government put together (and that ain’t saying much!) combined with the above tweet amounts to nothing less than a public political dressing down of a man whom pengovsky already said is probably earmarked as the fall guy when thing will go badly wrong.

And badly wrong they will go. As you know, Slovenia’s credit rating was cut down recently to just a notch above “junk” which means that we are more or less fucked. Even the former happy-go-merry market fundamentalists the likes of Jože P. Damijan who made a name for themselves by advocating flat-rate tax during Janša 1.0 have come to their senses and are now opposing across-boar-austerity, instead advocating the Krugman-Roubini gospel of jump-starting the economy as the government’s top priority.

There’s trouble in paradise and I ain’t talking an Ernst Lubitsch film, if you catch my drift. Members of the self-styled “coalition to save Slovenia” are slowly but surely going for each other’s throats while the world around them crumbles to pieces. That SDS went after Virant yet again only days ago only further proves the point.

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