The Prez Was In Surgery. Why Wasn’t Anyone Told?

President Danilo Türk underwent a surgical procedure on Tuesday, removing malignant tissue from his prostate, the Office of the President said earlier today. According to the statement the procedure was successful and the President is expected to make a full recovery, returning to his duties next week.

The Prez was under the knife (source)

Wishing good health and speedy recovery to The Prez, pengovsky is somewhat troubled by the post festum announcement of presidential medical woes. The issue in itself is nothing new and has been debated time and again: to what extent is the public entitled to know medical details of their elected officials?. Slovenia has a patchy history on this. First Slovenian president Milan Kučan was relatively free of medical problems (at least those we know of) and during his two-and-a-half terms in office was admitted to hospital only once, due to kidney stone problems. Before Kučan, the first Slovenian Prime Minister Lojze Peterle had his appendix removed while in office.

More known and widely reported was medical condition of the late Janez Drnovšek. In 1999, while still PM, Drnovšek was admitted to hospital and had a cancerous kidney removed. Three years after the operation he ran for president and was elected to the office despite confirming that he was “of slightly weaker health”. His embracing of alternative medicine to combat cancer caught international attention and his changed lifestyle was an inspiration to many in Slovenia and abroad. Nevertheless, Drnovšek died of cancer in late 2007, shortly after leaving office.

And of course, let us not forget the glorious fuck-up years ago while Janez Janša was Prime Minister, when he had his hernia operated. Then, as now, the media were informed post festum, but the fun began when his spokesperson (some say deliberately) made a typo and wrote that the PM had ligament (Slovene: kita) instead of hernia (Slovene: kila) surgery. However, “kita” is also slang for cock (or penis, if you prefer) and you can imagine the roaring laughter that echoed for weeks on end.

And while we’re on the subject, rumours are circulating of Janša being of ill health. Whether or not that is true and if true, what is the exact nature of his medical condition, no one save Janša and those closest to him know. Which brings us again to the question: How much should the public know?

For better or for worse, I think that there is indeed a limit to that. True, there is a certain logic in politicians presenting a clean bill of health before assuming and during their time in office. It’s nice to know that the people we trust to run the country as physically capable of performing the task. If a person in office has a debilitating illness, or a condition which is impairing him or her from doing the job effectively, then the public has the right to know and the politician in question most likely has to step down (hat tip: John Morrow on Quora)

But good health is no guarantee whatsoever that they will execute their office in the public interest. Case in point being President Drnovšek who (in my opinion) was one hell of a president after he changed his lifestyle on account of his disease. I’m not saying he was a bad president before that or even that he was a bad prime minister (his track record remains unbeaten), but fact of the matter is that his presidency has had a profoundning and extremely positive effect after he “turned alternative”.

But there are legal and political issues to consider as well. In case of president Türk’s surgery this means there should be at least some kind of announcement made. True, Slovene president does not have nuclear codes, nor are we at war (save with ourselves, but we don’t need a president for that). But despite everything, the President still is the Commander in Chief. Furthermore, the Constitution stipulates that in case of temporary or permanent incapacitation of the President, his powers are transferred to the President of the Parliament.

I imagine President Türk was under narcosis during surgery which means that for the duration of the procedure the powers would have been transferred to President of the Parliament Pavle Gantar. Hopefully, the necessary paperwork was filled out, but a public announcement was definitely lacking. Some would say that it’s not such a big deal, given the fact that the president’s powers in Slovenia are limited and that it’s a more or less routine procedure. But what if – Bob forbid – something went wrong?

Despite his limited powers, the President has some relatively important duties and obligations regarding the functioning of democratic institutions. For example, he nominates candidates for judges of the Constitutional Court. In fact, it was only yesterday when his nominee for a vacated post at the Constitutional Court Rado Bohinc was not approved by the parliament meaning Türk must go through the entire selection process again. What if he were unable to and the public were to find out through this that the presidential powers were transferred to Gantar?

I realise this looks like nitpicking but normally President Türk is such a stickler for constitutional details that this is quite a serious slip-up on his part and the part of his office. Again: I assume the powers were formally transferred but in the name of transparency, accountability and all the of-the-people-for-the-people-and-by-the-people shit, it would be nice if they would let us know that the Commander in Chief is going under the scalpel.

The same goes for the Prime Minister. Agreed, the PM wields more executive and less formal power, but in his case there is not even a clear line of succession as there is no formal Vice-PM (or something). Technically, the PM can decide which of his ministers can run the daily government business, but should the PM become incapacitated, there is no-one with parliament-mandated powers to run the executive branch. And the situation in Slovenia at the moment is so fragile that PM Borut Pahor reportedly cannot afford to be out of the country for more than three-or-so days.

However, most of these constitutional nuances are lost on general Slovene media. They are more concerned with why The Prez went to Innsbruck, Austria to have the surgery when he has professed his faith in Slovene health system. Well, that’s bullshit, methinks. The Prez can have him self opened up wherever he damn pleases, if he pays for it out of his own pocket. Which he has done in this case. And were he to choose a Slovenian hospital (apparently only Celje hospital is capable of performing a similar robotic surgery), he would be accused of jumping the queue.

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Thaler…. Emen Thaler

By now half of what was once known as the Free World knows about the sheer stupidity of Zoran Thaler MEP who was caught red-handed in the Cash-for-laws scandal. But in case you missed it or are too busy either running a revolution in Libya or keeping Fukushima Dai Chi from complete meltdown, here’s the gist of it

Zoran Thaler in “undercover” action. (source)

Sunday Times ran a sting operation codenamed Cash For Laws aimed at fishing out corrupt MEPs who would take considerable amounts of common European currency in exchange for filing legislation on behalf of various interest groups (in this case a fictitious London-based Russian banker). After kicking a few rocks around, they found one under which four MEPs were hiding: Pablo Zalba Bidegain of Spain, Ernts Strasser of Austria, Adrian Severin or Romania and Zoran Thaler of Slovenia. The mechanics of this were painfully simple. British journos posing as lobbyists would sit down with each of our Fantastic Four and feed them a story about this Russian client of theirs who would fork out 100 k€ to be split among the four of them were they to take part in an “advisory group” to the said Russian banker. Having covertly recorded the conversation it all made for a few memorable pwned moments.

Revelation of Thaler’s mischief naturally prompted a deluge of moral panic, outrage and general hypocrisy. But the fact that an MEP was looking for ways to make money on the side is hardly surprising. To be sure, it’s not kosher, is a direct violation of the representative-of-the-people and all that shit and leaves a really bad taste in one’s mouth, but it is not surprising. After all, the European Parliament is infested with lobbyists and the supra-national nature of the institution makes transparency all the harder to achieve (let us skirt the issue of depth-vs-breadth of the EU for now). Fact of the matter is that influence and legislative powers of MEPs are increasing while accountability has not exactly followed suit. This of course makes for a very fertile ground for both legitimate and ilegitimate, legal and illegal particular interests and influences being brought to bear by various pressure groups.

But what is surprising, is the incredible amount of stupidity, arrogance and casualness with which Thaler approached the issue. His demeanour in the incriminating video shows him as this incredibly suave guy oozing coolness, as if it was all in a day’s work. You know. Go to work, drop by the office, coffee at the parliamentary group’s HQ, debate the directive on fish droppings, file an amendment, vote, post-vote cocktails, have dinner with lobbyists, agree to represent special interest, go home and then do it all over again. This casualness bordered on arrogance when Thaler proposed he serve as a member of this “advisory group” for a year after which the “lobbyists” would decide whether he’s good enough for them. The now-former MEP for Slovenia was apparently so sure of himself and his actions that he decided to play the long game, possibly counting on some serious money down the road.

Which is probably the reason he acted stupid in the first place and agreed to be in this “advisory group” whose members were tricked into believing they will split some 100k€ among them. Provided the Sunday Times fished out only four rotten MEPs, this means a yearly fee of 25k€, whereas Thaler got a 30k€ severance pay upon tendering his resignation. So, you get 30k€ for doing the right thing and resigning and 25k€ for doing the wrong thing and perverting the legislative process (in addition to a 7k€ minimum pay-check every month). The only way this computes (apart from the possibility of the MEP in question being severely retarded) is if he hoped for some serious dough later on. And odds are he was doing just that. It transpired that apart from “doing a bit on the side”, Thaler (who, by the way, served as Slovenian foreign minister twice) tried to persuade the phantom Russian banker into a 1.5 million euro investment into a restaurant in Slovene Istria he holds a stake in. 1.5 mil, that’s a lot even for a corrupt MEP.

Facepalms don’t end there, however. Thaler’s initial reaction to the clustefuck of his own devising was that he knew all along that the whole thing was a scam and that he wanted to discover who was behind it. So, besides being an elected representative of the people, he styled him self as a double agent, a mole in the dark world of lobbyists and special interest, who wants to expose the bad guys inflicting unspeakable damage to institutions of the EU. One man against the armies of capital.

Yeah. And then the marmot wraps the chocolate. Were there a contest for the lamest excuse ever, Thaler would have won the second prize. He wouldn’t win because his excuse is that lame. I mean, wtf? It wasn’t even funny, his explanation. It wasn’t even cheesy, although some time ago Thaler was jokingly renamed from Zoran to Emen (Emen Thaler, get it?) But this they-were-out-to-get-me reflex is getting real old real fast. True, they were out to get him, but for a reason!

The whole thing is of course highly embarrassing for Slovenian PM Borut Pahor as well. Namely, although he is not a party member, Thaler ran for MEP on Pahor’s Social Democrats ticket and indeed headed the entire list. SD were quick to put a daylight between Thaler and themselves, but to little avail. The damage was done and all the party can do is to try to contain it as much as possible. This was done mostly by cutting Thaler loose immediately, not in the least by his fellow Social Democrats’ MEP Tanja Fajon who immediatelly called for a full and unfettered investigation into the corruption claims and called for any and all MEPs who are implicated to resign immediately.

In all honesty it has to be said that for the time being, the corruption seems to be spread evenly among the major parliamentary groups in the European Parliament. Or, at the very least, the Sunday Times knows how to ensure political neutrality even in corruption cases 🙂 But as far as Pahor’s Social Democrats are concerned, they have their work cut out for them. Just repeating that Thaler never was a party member will not be nearly enough. Their only break comes in the fact that even in Slovenia European Parliament is considered a distant and somehow less important institution.

But the extent of the fallout will depend on the behaviour of Thaler’s sucessor. The SD were close to another fuckup as next in line for Thaler’s seat was Pahor’s advisor Andrej Horvat who is also being investigated on corruption claims. Regardless of whether the charges are valid or not, sending him to Brussels would send a seriously wrong message. PM Pahor realised that soon enough and started twisting Horvat’s arm to take a pass on the Brussels seat. But Horvat was not easily convinced (either as a tactic or for real) and it was only yesterday that he finally said that he will not take Thaler’s stand and even that after Dušan Kumer and Miran Potrč, two reliable party heavyweights, twisted and apparently broke Horvat’s arm.

Thus Zoran Thaler (who, by the way sports appallingly bad English, especially for a guy who was this country’s foreign minister twice) will be succeeded by Mojca Kleva, a member of the upcoming generation of Social Democrats. How she will handle her new-and-unexpected political promotion remains to be seen. Although she has some experience in the corridors of Brussels bureaucracy and politcs, she runs the risk of being eaten alive by the sharks in the pool. But (full disclosure) pengovsky knows her personally (we’ve been colleagues at the university) and is convinced that she will put up a decent fight at the very least.

My only regret is that I never took the time for that coffee we kept promising each other for the past three years 🙂


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Tweet. Meet. Give.


24 March 2011. 175 events worldwide. Infinite amount of goodwill. And one of those events will be held at Ljubljana Castle. Twitterati and non-Twitterati alike will come together, tweet it and raise funds for Mali Vitez foundation, helping children who underwent cancer treatment. Charity and “going analogue” are at the heart of the Twestival idea and pengovsky is proud to be a small part of the most excellent team organising the 2011 Ljubljana Twestival.

I realise that the fact that yours truly is hosting the event is not the reason to clear your schedule, but you might want to do it anyway. There will be fun. There will be rock&roll and there will be funk, courtesy of The Tide, Žrebci, Tudo and DiscoBalls. There will also be stand-up routines by Iztok Majhenič and Mladen Pahović. And no, I won’t tell you who the surprise guest is. You’ll have to find that out for yourselves. All you have to do is attend the event and buy a Twestival Ljubljana badge.

Oh, and while you read this, you might as well send an text message to number 1919 and thus donate one euro to Mali Vitez. If your mobile providers are Mobitel or Si.Mobil, that is.

Anyways, it’s all for a good cause, Twitter account is not a prerequisite and all proceeds go to Mali Vitez. The event will be also be streamed (URL to be confirmed), but if you’re in the neighbourhood and don’t show up for at least half an hour, you’re just lame. Capisce? 😉 Yes, I know there’s shit going on in Libya and that Japan is still in the middle of a huge clusterfuck. I also know there’s a Slovene MEP who resigned on corruption charges amounting to 100k euro. But we should make room for some good news as well, no?

Oh, and if you are on Twitter, be a sport and RT this 🙂

A Libyan Perspective in 7 Pictures

Colonel and Sarko. Those were the days, my friend… (source)

Picture 1: When the Soviet Union went to spread Communism in Afghanistan in 1979, they were hoping for a quick in-and-out. Based on complete and utter lack of perspective, Leonid Brezhnev sent in the troops to protect the socialist Afghan government and then demanded that Afghan leader Nur Muhammad Taraki secure the support of petite bourgeoisie, as per “manual of communist revolution”. The fact that there was no petite bourgeoisie in Afghanistan to begin with was a fact entirely lost on the Soviet leader. The rest, as they say, is history.

Picture 2: Reacting to increasing Soviet in the country, the United States started arming, training and bankrolling anti-communist insurgents. After the Soviet Union fell apart and retreated from Afghanistan, the insurgents came to power and became known as the Taleban. The rest, as they say, is history.

Picture 3: When Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to nationalise the Suez Canal, it prompted the military intervention of France and the United Kingdom who in cohort with Israel attacked Egypt and tried to topple Nasser’s regime. Officially, the pretext for Anglo-French intervention was Israeli invasion of Sinai Peninsula with France and UK deploying forces to “separate the warring sides”. The plan backfired as the US administration of President Eisenhower threatened to dump a whole lot of British sovereign bonds and send the value of the pound spiralling down. The British backed out of the action with the French following suit, both effectively relinquishing heavy-weight status on the world stage. The rest, as they say, is history.

Picture 4: When Somalia disintegrated from within, the United Nations mandated a US led humanitarian intervention in an increasingly ugly civil war. Without trying to pick a side they tried to bring peace to a conflict they didn’t understand, let alone controlled. Applying tactics and politics which resembled trying to have the cake and eat it, the intervention, although initially moderately successful, failed spectacularly. The rest, as they say, is history.

Picture 5: Three words. Bush, Iraq, WMDs. Nuff said.

Picture 6: Interestingly, no-one is contemplating military intervention in Iran (at least since Bush is gone), despite the fact that it has a stronger and more united opposition than many of the countries of the “Jasmine revolution” as well as previous experience with democracy.

Picture 7: Today, we have an US president who is desperately trying to wind up two ongoing wars, and embattled French president and a freshly minted UK prime minister, all of them with massive problems at home. Then we have a North-African leader of questionable mental balance with whom the whole world was eager to shake hands with, as Libya was one of the few places where money could be made, corruption and human rights be damned. And then we have a hastily put together UN Security Council resolution authorising the first military action against a sovereign country since post 9/11 US invasion of Afghanistan and first “humanitarian intervention” since Kosovo in 1999.

And let us not forget that for all intents and purposes, Libya still is a sovereign country with a legitimate (if dictatorial and unstable) leader. Seems to me that what we have here is an overzealous Sarkozy, a naive Cameron and a tired Obama, who is probably more than happy that someone else is taking the initiative. Problem is, it has been 55 years since France and the UK played a leading role in a real-life action flick. The other problem is, nobody really knows if the rebels really are “the good guys”. From what we know, they’re just “the other guys”. But if someone failed to land that lucrative deal, they quite possibly started to look a whole lot better than they may turn out to be.

And all of a sudden the West will find itself in another war which will drag on and on….

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Hakuna Matata: Astonishing Levels of Stupid In Pension Reform Referendum

On Monday the Constitutional Court pronounced its landmark decision on whether it is in line with the constitution to hold a referendum on the pension reform. As expected, the Court decided that a referendum result cannot have unconstitutional effects and allowed the referendum bid to continue. The mechanics of this thing are fairly straightforward from now on. The labour unions have to collect the remainder of the 40,000 signatures necessary to hold a referendum and that shouldn’t pose a huge problem. After the signatures are filed and checked, the parliament will have to declare a date for the referendum (probably some time mid-May) and then it’s up to the voters to decide.

Prime Minister Borut Pahor will “fight like a lion” for the pension reform

The level of stupid this particular campaign will produce will most likely be astonishing. Populism, manipulations and demagoguery will be a-plenty, if the run-up to the Court’s decision is anything to go by. Labour unions, led by Dušan Semolič understandably fight for the status quo as it provides them with short-term benefits, mostly in the form of keeping the current pension framework, enabling those who are close to retirement age to reach it “as planned”. On the other hand, goes Semolič, the pension prevents young people from getting a job as it keeps old people employed longer. While this may be the case in a work-intensive industry that is light on education, it most certainly is not true in industries which either require plenty of specific knowledge or have a very steep learning curve. Or both. In latter case there is simply no way for a young person to just fill in for an older colleague.

The other case of extreme stupid is DeSUS‘ very own leader Karl Erjavec who keeps on ranting on how the pension reform will reduce pensions and disenfranchise “his pensioners”. Which is almost true. Except for the small fact that “his pensioners” keep getting their pensions by the active workforce contributing to the pension fund. And with life expectancy ever longer, the worker/pensioner ratio is dropping constantly. Currently it hovers around 1:1.6 which basically makes the pension fund unsustainable unless reforms are implemented. Somewhat worryingly for Erjavec “his pensioners” seem to understand the issue much better, as according to latest Delo poll a large majority of pensioners actually support the reform.

That Erjavec is breaking ranks with the coalition on this issue simply takes the stupid-meter another notch or two higher. As noted in an earlier post, it was SLS which saved the day during the parliamentary vote on the reform and may, as the campaign progresses, increasingly find itself on the government side, at least as an ally of opportunity. Whether or not that will hurt Erjavec and DeSUS’ standing within the coalition remains to be seen and depends mostly on the outcome of the referendum.

Because whatever the people think of Borut Pahor‘s government (which just took a further dive in popularity, sinking below 20 points), there seems to a certain awareness among voters that the issue at hand is bigger than just the incumbent government. That goes as well for the referendum on menial work (which caused the alcohol induced destructive student pyjama party in front of the parliament a year ago) which just entered campaign period and which is to be held on 17 April. That particular issue raises the bar of stupid substantially and things do not bide well for proponents of that referendum as the public opinion mostly supports the new law.

But even if – contrary to expectations – Borut Pahor and his government have a fighting chance to win these two referendums, it should be noted that levels of stupid within the coalition are not particularly low either. First, there are Liberal Democrats (LDS), junior coalition partners, who fret about how referendum legislation needs to be changed. Sure, yes, exclude financial legislation from being subject of a referendum, but it is not good PR to discuss limiting direct democracy just prior to two crucial popular votes. It sends a seriously wrong message. And then there’s the PM himself, who says he’ll fight like a lion for this reform. Well, hakuna matata, why don’t we all go on a safari and he who is not eaten by a lion, humped by a giraffe or violated by a male elephant gets to be the next prime minister or something. No seriously, this was not a good comparison. Fight, by all means, dear prime minister. That’s what you’ve been elected for. But fighting like a lion, well that’s just stupid.


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