Hail To The Main MoFo

Today is the Big O’s day. He will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States at noon local time, ushering in a new era of US politics.

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A new era? Depends on how you look at it. We already covered some aspects of this, but the last 70+ days of the Big O preparing to become the top dog have given some clues as to what the US and by extension the world can expect from the MoFo-In-Chief at least in the very beginning of his term.

Firstly. Forget revolution. That has already happened. The mere fact that the US didn’t split along the lines of Orry Main and George Hazard is surprising enough. Even more surprising (to an outside observer, at least) is the fact that the country seems to be totally cool with it. Despite all the hubbub about the colour of the man’s skin, it is no longer an issue and it seems as if it never was. But that was the revolutionary moment of Obama presidency. Short of actually driving around in a purple limo as well as releasing the files on JFK, Roswell and 9/11 CIA involvement, there is little that Obama can do to eclipse the moment when he became the first African-American to win the US presidential elections.

Secondly. Forget revolution. Revolutions are popular in times of deep and/or protracted economic crises. Just as Russians or Germans. But Barack Obama was not elected to replace the current order of things, but to mend and restore it. You can be sure that while tackling the economic crisis, Obama and his administration will not reinvent hot water but will rather try to find the right combination of known measures. If there ever was a hint of socialism in Obama’s policies, it was long overshadowed by the crashing sound neo-liberalistic stupidities made when they crashed with the harsh reality and when staunch believers in the free market were nationalising banks and insurance companies faster than you could say Federal reserve.

Thirdly. Forget revolution. Even if he ever entertained any such thoughts, the new president will not make a U turn with regard to Middle East, Iran or any other troubled hot-spot. Especially not with she-Clinton as the secretary of the state. She’s there to ensure that America gains friends without losing a lot more ground. Dubya and Rummy excelled in that particular department, but you can be sure that Israelis and Palestinians will not be rushing into each other’s arms just because the man was elected president. Nor will Iran go “here, have our plutonium. No, really, have it. We just didn’t like the other guy”.

But that doesn’t mean that The MoFo in Chief does not have his work cut out for him. It starts today and it won’t stop at least for the next 1461 days.

Entropa (Hitting Too Close To Home)

As you probably know by now, the Czech presidency of the EU is blushing and fuming with anger ever since it transpired that artistic instalation Entropa was not a collaborative effort by 27 artistist from 27 member states and that it does not exactly extol the virtues of being one big happy European family.

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Slovenia, the birthplace of tourism

In fact, the entire instalation was made by David Černý and two associates and rather than singing the song of European happiness, it cinycally takes it apart, selects and exaggerates a particular – mostly well chosen – national stereotype. On top of that, all the sculptures are put in a plastic frame often found in scale kit models, suggesting that Europe is a product rather than an idea. And to top it all there’s the name: Entropa, combination of Europe and entropy.

It could be brushed off as yet another prank by the enfant terrible of the Czech art world. But apparently it hit too close to home for some people. The following is taken from the relevant Wikipedia entry:

* Austria, a known opponent of atomic energy, is a green field dominted by nuclear power plant cooling towers
* Belgium is presented as a half-full box of half-eaten Praline chocolates
* Bulgaria is depicted by a series of connected “Turkish” squat toilets
* Cyprus is jigsawed (cut) in half
* The Czech Republic’s own piece is an LED display, which will flash controversial quotations by Czech President Václav Klaus after the sculpture’s activation
* Denmark is a face depicted in Lego bricks, reminiscent of the cartoon controversy
* Estonia is presented with a hammer and sickle-styled power tools, the country has considered a ban on Communist symbols
* Finland is depicted as a wooden floor and an [apparently drunk] male with a rifle, imagining various animals
* France is draped in a “GR?VE!” (“STRIKE!”) banner
* Germany is a series of interlocking autobahns, described as “somewhat resembling a swastika”, though that is not universally accepted. Upon activation, the cars are supposed to start moving.
* Greece is depicted as a forest that is entirely burned
* Hungary features an Atomium made of its common agricultural products melons and Hungarian sausages, based on a floor of peppers
* Ireland is depicted as a brown bog with bagpipes protruding from Northern Ireland; upon activation, the bagpipes are expected to play music every five minutes
* Italy is depicted as a football pitch with the players holding balls in the “strategic position”
* Latvia is shown as covered with mountains, in contrast to its actual flat landscape
* Lithuanian soldiers are depicted urinating on Russia
* Luxembourg is displayed as a gold nugget with “For Sale” tag
* Malta is a tiny island with its prehistoric dwarf elephant as its only decoration
* The Netherlands has disappeared under the sea with only a several minarets still visible; upon activation, this piece is supposed to emit the singing of muezzins
* Poland has a piece with priests erecting the rainbow flag of the Gay rights movement, in the style of the U.S. soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima.
* Portugal is shown as a wooden cutting board with three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies of Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique
* Romania is a Dracula-style theme park
* Slovakia is depicted as a Hungarian sausage (or a human body tighten by Hungarian tricolour)
* Slovenia is shown as a rock engraved with the words first tourists came here 1213
* Spain is covered entirely in concrete, with a concrete mixer situated near the Basque country
* Sweden does not have an outline, but is represented as large Ikea-style self-assembly furniture, containing Gripen fighter planes
* The United Kingdom, known for its Euroscepticism and relative isolation from the Continent, is “included” as missing piece (an empty space) at the top-left of the work

Personally, I think this is a lovely provocation, not unlike what Slovenian designers did with The Youth Relay twenty years ago. It says more about the object of the mockery (in this case member states) as it does of the object of the art. In case of Slovenia it takes apart this country’s totally unfounded conviction that it is the centre of the world and that all great things somehow started here. Even tourism, for crying out loud! So in the instalation the rock that is Slovenia states that “the first tourists came here in 1213”. Gotta love it! (Full text of descriptions can be found here)

But in this particular case the fool in the room turned out to be the Czech presidency which (not unlike Slovenian presidency a year ago) was trying to come across as more European than Europe itself. Thus, the point of Entropa has been proven by the very people who aimed to discredit it. The fact that Černý made up 26 other artists, their biographies and even accompanying texts, only further shows that the European idea is artificial at least in part. That in itself if not necesarily bad as it does help to be reminded of that every once in a while. Just so we don’t get carried away.

Vlado Miheljak Apologises For Janez Janša

That’s right. The columnist whom Janez Janša threatned to sue issued an appology in his regular column in today’s Dnevnik daily. But he didn’t apologise to Janez Janša, he apologised for him.

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Vlado Miheljak and cartoon in his today column (by Franco Juri) (source and source)

In a nutshell. Miheljak of course never had any intention to apologise to Janša. Instead, as predicted by yours trully, he drew parallels between Janša being imprisoned in 1988 on the grounds of publishing things harmful to the government (which was a criminal offence back then) and Janša filing suits against people which publish things harmful to Janša’s government. In the last few days the former PM stated on many occasions that he feels compeled to defend the legacy of his government. Apparently, he also feels that this can be effectively achieved by dragging anyone who doesn’t agree with him to court.

Truth be told, Vlado Miheljak is not the easiest of characters out there. He is known for raining on parade of any political option which feels too pleased with itself. This especially includes the political left, even though Miheljak’s political sympathies lay firmly in the left side of the spectrum. He is known for deconstructing almost anyone and anything that comes in his crosshairs, although – this must be said – his edge blumted considerably after twenty years of cutting through stupidites of petty politicking this country seems to be perpetually infested with.

However, his relationship with Janez Janša is something special. After Janez Janša was arrested for supposedly publishing top secret information in an article published by Mladina weekly in 1988, Miheljak was one of the more prominent members of the Committee for Protection of Human Rights which worked for the release of Janša and fellow prisoners in 1988. All of this is generally known.

A little less generally know is the fact that the text which got Janša arrested in 1988 was actually written by Miheljak.

And today it seems, Janša is doing what the Jugoslav Army probably wanted to do twenty years ago. And alhtough he received a lot of support from a lot of people in the last few days, I’m pretty certain that while supporting Miheljak they privatly muse thinking that it “serves the bastard right”. But the outcome of this battle is already known. In a fight with Vlado Miheljak the other side always loses.

Trust Is Good. Control Is Better. Lawsuits Are The Best.

When the most good looking of European leaders (and I’m not talking about Silvio Berlusoni) is not busy reassuring the fair people of Slovenia that his government has things under control, he is apparently indluging in massive politically motivated changes at the helm of various state companies. Janez Janša‘s SDS even published a counter on its website, displaying the number of politically motivated changes – according to their count. At the time od this writing, the number has reached a staggering twenty-eight.

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Replacements counter on www.sds.si

There are some 3700 senior staff in the civil service and para-government institutions. So far, the government of Borut Pahor replaced twenty eight people, which means that the SDS views every replacemement as political. But why is this such a problem? Because Borut Pahor promised in the election campaign that his government will only replace people if they prove to be incompetent. Which he even may have planned to do, but as one administration sets in certain personel changes are inevitable. I mean, it is sort of natural that a new minister will want someone he can trust and knows he/she can work with as, say, secretary general of the ministry (basically the head of the administration). Also, if the new government wants to pursue a different set of policies with regard to the companies the state owns, it seems logical that state’s representatives in those companies are replaced.

However. Replacements as such are not a problem. The problem is whom does the government replace these people with. If competence really is the main criteria(as opposed to Janša’s regime where party membership was the prevalent factor), then it must be said that this criteria could be enforced much more thoroughly than it is at the moment. Case in point being the recent nomination of Draško Veselinovič as the CEO of Nova Ljubljanska banka (NLB), the largest Slovene bank.

Veselinovič was basically a shoo-in as he was nominated and confirmed by the bank’s supervisory board and not in a shareholders’ meeting. Although he does come from the world of finance (until now he was CEO of Deželna banka, a small rural-oriented bank, before that the CEO of Ljubljana stock exchange), he also ran on LDS ticket in last year’s parliamentary elections and nearly got elected. In fact, he came so close that once party president Katarina Kresal became Minister of the Interior, he was next in line to become an MP. Instead, he took a pass, allowing long-time MP Tone Anderlič to get into the parliament yet again, while he himself waited for what must surely have been a job offer agreed in advance. At least in general terms.

And even that might be acceptable (might being the operative word). But in my book Veselinovič’s main problem is the fact that he was embroiled in a scandal on Ljubljana stock exchange when a number of high profile stock-brokers and heads of stock-brokerin firms lost their licences, while Veselinovič and the other member of a two-man Board had to resign their posts due to allegations that firms increased their values at the end of the year by closing virtual deals on the stock exchange. Although the case against Veselinovič was dropped (due to lack of evidence) this is not exactly a thing you want on a resume of a CEO of the nation’s largest bank. But hey, Borut Pahor probably agreed on Veselinovič as a reward to LDS for playing ball and not causing too much trouble during formation of the government. Thus everyone is happy.

Everyone? Not exactly. Zares, the second largest coalition partner is fuming. Specifically, its president Gregor Golobič and minister of economy Matej Lahovnik went apeshit over Veselinovič and when PM Pahor pulled the same stunt only days later in forming an Energy Council (a supposedly advisory body on energy policies), Lahovnik basically threatened to resign (Lahovnik: “if this goes on each of us will have to rethink its role in this government”). As the energy sector is under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Economy, Lahovnik was somewhat suprised that this council was formed unbeknownst to him, prompting his party boss Gregor Golobič to demand a coalition summit where a detailed procedure for future nominations would be agreed upon.

Trust is good, control is better, said Lenin.

DeSUS, it seems, is keeping quiet.

However, former PM Janez Janša is not keeping quiet. Apparently he is about to file yet another suit, this time against columnist Vlado Miheljak who has been indulging in deconstructing Janša’s personality for the last 20 years (Miheljak is a clinical psychiatrist by education and a professor of psychology by trade) and apparently Janša had had it last Wednesday, when Miheljak in his column for Dnevnik daily wrote that Janša more or less wrecked Slovenia.

Vlado Miheljak has now joined the distinguished club of Tone Rop, Boško Šrot, Magnus Berglund, Drago Kos, Bojan Potočnik and fellow psychiatrist Slavko Ziherl. I suspect that in tomorrow’s column Miheljak will draw paradoxes from Janša being wrongly accused by the Army in 1988 and Janša wrongly accusing others of slander in 2009.

Should be fun.

This brings the total number of people Janša is sueing to seven. Ha! It took an entire government to replace 28 people, while Janša in more or less same period of time personally dragged seven people to court. No wonder his government was able to replace hundreds.

The Parliament Kitchen

One of the perks of being a Slovenian MP is also having access to what is popularely known as the “parliament kitchen”. Today a canteen, it was a full-blown restaurant until a couple of years ago, but still retains some of the best cooks and a very experienced chef.

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The food in the parliament kitchen (source)

But apart from being good (and I mean really good), the food in there is dirt cheap. And it is precisely that fact which periodically draws cries of outrage by journalists, blogers, Facebook users and other fine people of this country. I mean, they do have a point. Three-course menu for 4 euros? Coffe and a sandwich for 1.20 eiuros (approx.)?

Compare that with some 12+ euros for a two-course quickie in a nearby diner, or 2.20 euros for an espresso and croissant pengovsky pays almost every morning in one of his watering holes and you start thinking someone is charging dumping prices. The usual argument goes along the lines of MPs earning some 3000+ euros monthly for just sitting there and pressing buttons, so why the fuck shouldn’t they pay proper prices for their food? In the eyes of many this is just another example of MPs making their life comfortable whitout giving a pair of dingo’s kindeys about anyone else.

While popular, the reasoning is both wrong and demagogical. Namely, the “parliament kitchen” is not suppose to make profit. It is not a company but a service the institution provides to the people working there. Also, the staff are on the parliament’s payroll and are not employed by the kitchen itself. In short, their salaries are financed by the budget and not by income the kitchen makes. Therefore it is only correct, that meal prices in there are lower, as they only need to cover the actual cost of production, and do not include labour cost nor a profit margin.

In fact… If the prices in the parliament kitchen represent the basic cost of meal production, it is entirely reasonable to ask how big a profit margin bars and restaurants really charge. Take coffee, for example, since prices of a single cup of coffee very wildly in Ljubljana. Naturally, in “normal” bars and restaurants prices include the cost of labour as well. The hourly wage is around four euros, and the lowest price of an espresso is around one euro. Knowing that the production cost of a cup of espresso in the parliament kitchen in half a euro, we can roughly calculate that a waiter has to serve eight espressos every hour to make his or her hourly wage. Anything beyond that goes to the owner. And that’s only selling espressos. If you consider food (normal price 12 euros), the profit margin is even greater, as a watier would have to sell one menu every two hours to make his wage. Anything beyond that again goes to the owner.

So – it’s not that the parliament kitchen is dirt chip. Rather it is the fact that bars and restaurants are charging attrocious prices for product and service that often leave a lot to be desired. And one more thing – contrary to popular belief, the parliament kitchen does not serve only ninety elected representatives of the people. It also feeds almost four hundred parliament employees and most of them don’t make 3000 euros per month. Besides, most MPs don’t eat in there. Not classy enough. They rather go to the nearby Maxim, where their wallets will endure a proper degree of abuse.