Monday, February 7, 2011

Parliamentary election in October

The parliamentary election has been set for October 23rd, subject to approval by the president, Bronislaw Komorowski. Barring any significant changes, the current government--a coalition of the centre-right Civic Platform (PO) and the smaller, agrarian Polish Peasants' Party--is expected to remain in office at least until then. Opinion polls suggest that the PO, led by the prime minister, Donald Tusk, is likely to become the first party to secure re-election to office since the end of the communist regime in 1989. Support for the PO is currently around 40-50%, nearly twice that enjoyed by the main opposition party, the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS). However, there are question-marks over whether opinion polls reflect the true level of popular support for the PO. The party's level of support at the local elections in November 2010, at around 30%, fell considerably short of expectations.
The main problem for the PO is that its commanding poll lead over the PiS owes more to the opposition's lack of popularity than to the government's achievements since coming to power in late 2007. The PO's continuing popularity reflects the public's aversion towards the turbulent and confrontational style of politics associated with the PiS. Mr Tusk's administration is generally perceived as having carried out its tasks competently, and it has taken credit for Poland's status as the only European economy to grow in 2009, when the global economic crisis was at its worst. However, even the government's supporters are critical of its lack of ambition and failure to introduce liberalising reforms of the labour market, pension system, public finances and government administration. When the late Lech Kaczynski (whose twin brother, Jaroslaw, is the PiS leader), was president, his veto (or the threat of it) served as an excuse for the government to delay tough policy choices. (The government lacks the three-fifths parliamentary majority necessary to overturn a presidential veto). However, Mr Komorowski, who replaced Lech Kaczynski after his death in April 2010, is a PO nominee, thus removing this excuse. PO officials have justified their relative inaction since Mr Komorowski's election in July 2010 by arguing that drastic actions at this stage are either unneeded or would play into the hands of the PiS.
Nevertheless, the PiS's weakness still makes it likely that the PO will emerge from the election as the largest party in parliament, and will be well placed to lead the government once more. The PiS was rocked in November 2010 by the breakaway of a group of moderates, led by Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, who had run Jaroslaw Kaczynski's presidential campaign in July 2010. Ms Kluzik-Rostkowska and her supporters formed a new centre-right party, Poland is the Most Important. Jaroslaw Kaczynski's uncompromising stance on several issues may have buttressed backing for the PiS among its core supporters (which, according to opinion polls, comprise around 20-25% of the electorate), but it also appears to have eroded support among more moderate Poles.
In January Jaroslaw Kaczynski reacted furiously to the dismissal by the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) of Polish objections to its report on the circumstances surrounding the crash that killed Lech Kaczynski and many other top Polish officials near Smolensk in western Russia. The IAC report essentially blamed the Polish pilots (and some passengers) for the crash, and exonerated Russian air controllers at Smolensk airport. Mr Kaczynski's reaction was in large part driven by personal grief, but may also have reflected a political calculation. Mr Tusk has looked uncomfortable in his reactions to the IAC report, as he has had to appease the many Poles who felt that the conclusions of the report were deeply unfair, while avoiding an overly emotional response that could set back the progress achieved to date in Polish-Russian relations--a central tenet of the government's foreign policy. Jaroslaw Kaczynski's harsh criticism of the government on this issue may have paid off in the short term, as opinion polls taken after the release of the IAC report showed a drop in support for the PO and a concomitant rise in support for the PiS. However, it is unlikely that this issue will be sufficient on its own to tip the balance in favour of one party or the other.

Study findings from Massey University provide new insights into politics and government

Researchers detail in "On lies, secrets, and silence"the politics of evidence and interpretive strategies,' new data in politics and government. "Debates about identifying and naming lesbians in history and how to characterize relationships between women in earlier historical contexts have been passionately contested since publication of Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's (1975) essay 'The Female World of Love and Ritual.' Spurred by Adrienne Rich's influential concept of a lesbian continuum and more recent gender-crossings in Queer and Trans-theory, charting the ambiguous spaces of desire is a highly charged political act. Together, these debates pose significant challenges for feminist historians researching women whose lives disrupted any neat correspondence between sex, gender, and sexuality," scientists in Palmerston North, New Zealand report.
"This article traverses these issues in relation to Amy Bock, infamous as a criminal confidence artist and cross-dresser at the turn of the twentieth century and claimed in recent times as lesbian. Amy herself pleaded an inherited mental instability; the authorities at the time agreed she was a habitual criminal," wrote J. Coleman and colleagues, Massey University.
The researchers concluded: "Mad, bad, or lesbian? Or was she simply unconventional in her gender and sexuality? It is argued that how we approach these questions potentially tells us more about the desires of the researcher than those of our subjects."
Coleman and colleagues published their study in the Journal of Lesbian Studies ("On lies, secrets, and silence"the politics of evidence and interpretive strategies. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 2010;14(4):303-18).
For more information, contact J. Coleman, School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Publisher contact information for the Journal of Lesbian Studies is: The Haworth Press, Inc., Taylor & Francis Group Ltd, 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxford OX14 4RN United Kingdom.
Keywords: City:Palmerston North, Country:New Zealand, Government, Politics, Politics and Government.

Leading expert on Illinois politics

Samuel K. Gove, 87, a leading authority on Illinois state politics and director emeritus of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, died Friday, Jan. 28, in an Urbana hospital, according to his family.
Mr. Gove had recently been hospitalized after suffering a fall, said his nephew Stephen Gove. His health deteriorated while in the hospital due to injuries and other complications.
Over the last 60 years, Mr. Gove established himself as a respected scholar and adviser in local and state politics. He joined the Institute of Government and Public Affairs as a research assistant in 1950, became professor of political science in 1961, and was named director of the Institute in 1967.
Between 1957 and 1982, Mr. Gove organized 17 statewide assemblies on various issues facing the state. The 1962 assembly set in motion the drive for the 1970 constitutional convention.
"He was really Mr. Illinois and universally respected in our state, both in academia and in government for his many contributions," said Robert F. Rich, the institute's current director.
As director of the legislative staff intern program from 1962-73, Mr. Gove nurtured the careers of several future political leaders, including former Gov. Jim Edgar, Judge Wayne R. Andersen, state Sen. Kirk Dillard and former U.S. Rep. Terry Bruce. He also served on transition teams for Govs. Dan Walker and Edgar.
"Sam was one of my mentors," Edgar said. "If it hadn't been for Sam Gove, there may not have been a legislative intern program and that was my entry" into public service.
Mr. Gove was also founding chairman of the influential Illinois Issues magazine, and he served on the magazine's advisory board for 28 years.
"Sam was an institution in and around the state Capitol, where he was viewed by lawmakers as Mr. Good Government," said James Nowlan, a former state legislator and longtime friend.
Mr. Gove was born in Walpole, Mass., on Dec. 27, 1923, to Minnie L. and Chester B. Gove. In a 2007 university interview, Mr. Gove said he grew up in a family that took civic responsibility seriously.
"So we understood when the elections were and who was running and how the electoral process worked," he said. "As kids we would go to the town meeting and see government working in action."
Mr. Gove attended Massachusetts State College from 1941-43 and served during World War II as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He received his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts in 1947, and earned a master's degree in political science from Syracuse University in 1949.
In the 1960s, Mr. Gove was a major player in the effort to draft a new constitution for Illinois. At the time the state was still operating under its 1870 constitution.
He was appointed by the governor and the president of the Illinois Senate to various study commissions to lay the groundwork for the constitutional convention. He later led the effort to produce a book series that chronicled the effort to draft and adopt the new 1970 constitution.
He co-wrote or edited more than a dozen books and a hundred articles. His first major co-written book, "Legislative Politics in Illinois," was published in 1960. He later collaborated on two books on the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention. He co-edited another highly acclaimed book, "After Daley, Chicago Politics in Transition," published in 1982, six years after the death of Mayor Richard J. Daley. His last book, "Illinois Politics: A Citizen's Guide," appeared in 2010.
Mr. Gove spent summers at his cabin in Pentwater, Mich., where he had many friends. Cocktail parties on the deck of his home overlooking Lake Pentwater were legendary among his many friends throughout Illinois.
He is survived by three nephews and two nieces.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Strange Year

1989 was a strange and wondrous year. The warm glow of compromise and conciliation replaced what had previously been the chilly relations between Republican Governor Deukmejian and the Democrat-dominated Legislature.
With a key election year ahead and the specter of reapportionment looming, it's unlikely that sort of glasnost will surface again for awhile. Partisanship will run rampant as candidates struggle for victory and parties vie for dominance.
So how did all this cooperation come about and what did Californians get from it?
In January, Deukmejian released himself from political bondage. He announced that he would not run for a third-term. Without having to please his conservative constituency, Deukmejian became a different man.
He jumped into the legislative process. That allowed lawmakers to modify their bills to meet the governor's approval rather than learning he didn't like their idea through a veto.
Deukmejian also got off his intransigent ""no-new-taxes" stand. He's now head cheerleader for a constitutional amendment on the June ballot that will double the gas tax and lift the state's spending limit.
Although there's little fear that the governor will go socialist by the end of his term, he's certainly become more open to ideas that would have gotten a thumbs-down before.
The classic example is California's new ban on the sale or possession of 55 types of semi-automatic pistols, shotguns and rifles.
Granted, the massacre of five children in a Stockton school yard last January by a man armed with an AK-47 rifle gave the issue momentum, but Deukmejian quickly signaled his support for such a ban - which was what really got the bill passed and signed into law.
From the Legislature's point of view, 1989 was a chance to prove that special interests had not paralyzed them. Stung by scores of initiatives that took aim at the weighty issues - such as insurance reform - lawmakers had been unable to resolve, even partisan-minded pols such as Assembly Speaker Willie Brown promised to elevate policy over politics.
And, strangely enough, lawmakers delivered.
The gas tax increase, which Brown and others view as they year's biggest achievement, is a remarkable document. It is the first example in ages of lawmakers looking past their upcoming re-election campaigns. The proposal contains a 10-year plan with oodles of specifics on how the new money generated by the tax should be spent. It has been pitched as a ""blueprint for the 21st century."
Whether it's as fabulous as Deukmejian and the Legislature claim remains to be seen. But at least policymakers took a stab at looking down the road a ways.
Similarly, legislators used the $1.2 billion expected to be generated by the 25-cent-a-pack cigaret tax over the next year to shore up the state's sagging health-care programs.
Children's hospitals, underfinanced emergency rooms, trauma centers and crumbling county hospitals all are getting their first hefty cash injection in years.
And, in another burst of foresightedness, lawmakers and Deukmejian crafted a plan to cope with the state's mountains of trash that includes greater incentives for recycling and requirements that cities and counties cut down their waste - or else.
What makes these accomplishments even more amazing is the vast amount of time the Legislature spent trying to improve the ethical conduct of its members.
Not a bad year, all in all. Here's hoping it doesn't take until the last year of the next decade before we see more of the same.

Politics in the '80s: great drama, high hopes, dashed expectations

The decade of the 1980s began with a Massachusetts son, Ted Kennedy, running for president and closes with Massachusetts native George Bush in the White House.
In Rhode Island, it began with Claudine Schneider running for House and closes with her poised to run for Senate.
It began with a Providence mayor, Republican Buddy Cianci, challenging Democratic Governor Joe Garrahy and closes with Democratic Mayor Joe Paolino about to challenge GOP Governor Ed DiPrete.
Politics may look symmetrical and tidy, but there's a lot of raggedness and untidiness, too.
Kennedy's 1980 campaign for the Democratic presidential nod actually began in 1979. Polls had him swamping Jimmy Carter. A glittering Kennedy restoration seemed entirely likely. On the other hand, Kennedy couldn't answer a simple question from Roger Mudd: Why do you want to be president?
Speaking of polls - remember when still another Massachusetts son, Mike Dukakis, led Bush by 17 points in the summer of 1988?
And Barney Frank? In the early '80s, he was a congressman from up north. But as the 1980s close, he's a household name - not only in the Fall River-Attleboro area, whose redrawn seat he won in a celebrated 1982 race with Margaret Heckler, but also around the country, because of his involvement with a male prostitute.
In Rhode Island, there was the long-playing tragedy of the 1986 impeachment inquiry into the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Joe Bevilacqua; he finally resigned.
There was the long-playing comedy of state Senate redistricting. As in impeachment, lawyers were the big winners. This was an expensive production in which Democratic bosses so botched the 1982 redrawing of district lines that the courts postponed Senate elections to 1983.
The career of Senate Majority Leader Rocco Quattrocchi was shattered. That of Senate maverick Richard Licht, who was to have been a victim of the bosses, was launched; he later became lieutenant governor.
And there was the long-playing mystery: RIHMFC. This was the housing scandal that unfolded in 1985 and yielded a flurry of indictments but, in the end, few successful prosecutions.
Some of the biggest stories are best remembered in tiny snapshots.
It was May 15, 1986, the House impeachment inquiry into Bevilacqua's ties with criminals:
Richard "Moon" DiOrio, a former Rhode Island mobster now living in parts unknown, enters the State House hearing room wearing a black mask and a Miami Dolphins hat, shedding the disguise only when safely ensconced in front of a six-foot-high shield that prevents the audience from seeing him.
DiOrio says he heard Bevilacqua promise Mafia lieutenant Nicky Bianco he'd keep up contacts once he became chief justice.
Now, in cross-examination, Bevilacqua's lawyer tries to get DiOrio to concede Bevilacqua is a wonderul man. "I wouldn't say a 'wonderful' man," DiOrio declares, adding, "If he wants to smell like a skunk, that's his business."
While the inquiry was on, Nicky Bianco was still married to his wife, Francesca. Both made cameo appearances before the investigators. He said he hadn't had any contact with Bevilacqua since the judge went on the bench.
By October 1988, the Biancos were divorced, and the now-Francesca Coats burst into the news by landing a job with the Governor's Justice Commission. Her patron: Ron DiOrio, who was a DiPrete aide and brother of Moon. Hiring of a mobster's ex-wife to a justice panel job was a sensation at the height of a gubernatorial campaign filled with charges and counter-charges about ethics and favoritism. When the news broke, DiPrete made sure Coats was fired; DiOrio quit; DiPrete squeaked by.
DiPrete's opponent was Bruce Sundlun, the same guy Democratic leaders recruited in 1986. The wealthy Sundlun made an unusual splash that first time: He disclosed he'd run, then was immediately seen being interviewed - on Channel 10 - at his farm in Virginia hunt country.
The fact that Democrats had to beg for a candidate in 1986 and 1988 was a tribute to DiPrete and testimony to the erosion of the Rhode Island Democratic Party.
In the 1970s, Democrats were so dominant that Republicans could win only three of 39 elections for U.S. Senate, House or state general office. But in the '80s, the Republicans took 14 of 38.
The bottom really fell out for the Democrats in 1984, when the party self-destructed in a bloody primary for governor between Anthony Solomon and Joe Walsh.
In a bruising campaign, Solomon, aligned with Garrahy, beat Walsh, aligned with a bevy of legislative leaders and mayors. But in November, DiPrete led a GOP resurgence, including Arlene Violet's victory as attorney general.
Violet's rise and fall
Claudine Schneider, the first woman elected to major office in Rhode Island, may be the '80s' enduring story, but Violet's is more spectacular: No pol's star shone so bright or fell so quickly.
Hers was an arresting tale, the tough nun eager to tackle crime. The Church tried to discourage her from running in 1982 - she went ahead and lost narrowly - and in 1984 she left the Sisters of Mercy to make a repeat run.
"I hunger and thirst for justice," she told 1,000 backers who cheered, hollered and waved signs at the 1025 Club announcement.
She skewered incumbent Denny Roberts as a poor manager. I told her, in a post-election chat, that she wouldn't be allowed any mistakes; she had raised public expectations so high that perfection would be demanded of her.
And then she or her office made plenty of mistakes - including prosecutorial misconduct, furnishing of incomplete transcripts, withholding of information from the defense - and in 1986 she was booted out.
So much of politics is tawdry - tales of Peter Gilbert, for example.
So much of it is glamorous - a wealthy patrician like John Chafee or Claiborne Pell seems to glide from one election to another.
So much of it is sour - a Fred St Germain serves in Congress for 28 years, loses in 1988 and still refuses to be interviewed about it.
It's hard to remember sometimes that these people are human. But yes, that was Eddie Beard, breaking down at Green Airport after Schneider beat him in 1980. Yes, that was John Holmes fighting back tears at the 1988 GOP state convention, admitting his dream of unseating St Germain had evaporated when he failed to file his candidacy papers on time; now, in a class act, he urged delegates to work for Ron Machtley, who would go on to oust the incumbent.
One retains a sad picture even of Cianci. Some think of him as he left City Hall after resigning in disgrace in 1984. But my mind has a different snapshot, from the 1980 campaign for governor. That drive began amid promise; there were triumphant appearances at the Bristol parade and the GOP National Convention. But the Cianci campaign quickly disintegrated as the truth about Providence's fiscal chaos began to emerge.
By early October, the race was over. I recall being in Woonsocket for a fete and watching Cianci walk down the street to his helicopter. He was alone in his thoughts, in what he had to know was a hopeless effort, and I wondered what kept him going.
Yet, victory is so sweet - both for the candidate and the electorate. Rarely are politicians so popular as when they win and are sworn in. They've yet to offend anyone. Everyone wishes them well.
DiPrete, who campaigned as The Change We Need, was inaugurated on Jan. 1, 1985, the decade's midpoint.
There was Pat DiPrete, the governor's wife, in her white fur hat; there was daughter Tricia holding the hand of her 91-year-old great-aunt, Mollie Buchan.
Governor DiPrete declared:
Today we open a new chapter in Rhode Island's history. We begin with no ties to the past and nothing to hold us back except the boundaries of our dreams for ourselves and for our state.
Our success will be measured by how well we meet the needs of our least fortunate citizens and how adept we are at providing opportunity to all people.
It sounded magnificent.
But in reality, of course, politicians' deeds fall short of their rhetoric; performance seldom matches expectations.

Bush still must fill about 25 percent of top posts

WASHINGTON - When President Bush returns to Washington from his hunting and fishing trip in Texas this week, he will begin the new decade with one tedious, unfinished task. Nearly a year after he took office, his administration is not completely staffed.
A recent study made by Democratic Study Group in the House of Representatives shows that about 25 percent of top administrative jobs are vacant, waiting for Bush to name his choice. Although White House aides have rejected that accounting, their own numbers show the president has yet to announce nominees for 133, or 22 percent, of 609 top policy-making jobs requiring Senate confirmation.
The job-filling process has been sluggish by almost any standard. One reason, according to administration aides, is Bush's desire to hire minorities and women.
Chase Untermeyer, the president's personnel director, said two appointments have been in limbo for months because a Cabinet secretary rejected names of Hispanics offered by the White House, he said.
"The Cabinet secretary has refused again and again to accept any Hispanic recommendations we have made," said Untermeyer. In response, the White House held up the secretary's choice for another position.
He said an agreement struck late last week may settle the dispute.
Untermeyer declined to name the secretary, but the Department of Labor, headed by Elizabeth Dole, is the only one fitting his description.
Although Bush has said he wanted to be the "environmental president," the Environmental Protection Agency has no permanent officials in several top posts.
The nation has had two major disasters, Hurricane Hugo and the California earthquake, without a permanent chief at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"I think it's an indication of a serious problem at some level," said Scott Lilly, executive director of the Democratic Study Group. "The work of the president, to some extent, is naming people to positions of responsibility."
Such attacks are "good old brass knuckles politics," responded Untermeyer. He said Bush has chosen another 99 people for policy-making jobs, but their names have been kept secret while the FBI checks their backgrounds. According to administration figures, the White House must find people for only 34 top agency and department jobs.
Untermeyer has argued that the slow-but-sure approach has advantages, and the administration claims to have hired historic levels of women and minorities.
As of mid-December, Bush had selected women for 98 out of 524 selections, including appointments of ambassadors and U.S. attorneys, Untermeyer said. In his first year as president, Ronald Reagan named 45 women. Former President Jimmy Carter chose 71 in 1977, Untermeyer said.
Bush has named 65 minorities, or 12 percent of those selected, according to Untermeyer. He said there were no official first-year figures on minorities appointed by previous administrations.
Both the administration and its critics have laid some blame for the lagging appointments on more exacting FBI background checks of would-be office holders.
But Lilly said the time to blame the FBI has passed. "By December, if you've still got 100 vacancies, you've plumb run out of excuses," he said.
Lilly said problems may not be visible today, but they will come down the road when the government agencies follow outdated policies because of a lack of new leadership. "That's when the price will be paid," he said.


Masha Lubelsky, secretary-general of the Histadrut women's organization, Na'amat, addressed the assembly of the Women's Day For Peace in Jerusalem on Friday, in a departure from Labour Party leaders' reticence to identify openly with protests against the occupation of the territories.
The event was organized by the Women and Peace Movement, an umbrella organization made up of a number of women's protest groups. It was organized to call for peace negotiations with the PLO, an end to the occupation, and creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Lubelsky addressed approximately 1,500 women, including Jewish and Arab Israelis, as well as Palestinians and a sprinkling of women from North America and Europe. Many of the women were dressed in black, in preparation for the women's march to East Jerusalem later that day.
Following the assembly, over 4,000 women, most dressed in black, marched from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem. On Salah ed-Din Street in East Jerusalem more Palestinians joined the group, chanting Palestinian national slogans.
The march took place without incident until nearly the end, when a group of Palestinian women raised a Palestinian flag and shouted nationalist slogans near the Hakawati Palestinian theatre. The police used teargas and waded into the crowd, detaining 16 people. According to police yesterday night, all 16 were released.
At the women's peace assembly, Lubelsky said she accepted the invitation to address the gathering because she believed women could influence the peace process. She said, though, that "it must be clear to Jewish and Arab women alike that the State of Israel is no longer of such great interest to other countries; in some places we are even seen as a nuisance. Events in the international arena have distanced the possibility that other countries will want to influence the peace process here. Thus, we are forced back on ourselves. At this time we must show our own strength and take the initiative towards a peace conference."
Nabilla Espanioli, a Haifa psychologist whom moderator Debby Lehrman introduced as an Israeli Palestinian, observed that in Israel society, "machismo has become the ideal type. The superman has become adorable; our children are expressing this in intifada games and street roulette. Women can feel the danger."
Zahira Kamal, the chairwoman of Palestinian women's organizations, noted that for Palestinian women, the notion of self-determination includes gender politics as well as the struggle for a Palestinian state. To scattered applause, she said: "Our national integrity is not subject to Israeli definitions; we have the right to designate our legitimate leadership, the PLO." She called for women "to embark on a joint quest for peace. Peace will not arrive at our doorstep unbidden if we do not strive for it."