Thursday, 29 March 2012

POLAND: The End Of The Shale Gas Dream? (A. Dryszel)

Are our shale gas dreams set to end in disappointment? 21st March sees the publication of a report by the Polish Geological Institute which should give us a more accurate and realistic estimate of our potential shale gas reserves. The report might spell the end for the dream of Poland becoming a shale gas giant. According to estimates published in April 2011 by researchers from the US Department of Energy, Poland might have around 5.3 trillion cubic metres of shale gas. This was an estimate of how much gas could probably be found in our shale rock. It was not based on exploratory drilling but was instead based mainly on analysis of Poland's geological structure. There was no indication of how much gas could actually be extracted using current technology. The more exploration wells are drilled, the more it seems that there is little shale gas to be found.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

INTERNATIONAL: Nowruz-- Persian New Year (B. Dżon)

Washed carpets, clean windows, scrubbed floors, holiday napkins decorated with pictures of wheat, goldfish, eggs and the Koran-- this is how Iranians welcome the Persian New Year, what to us is the first day of spring.

Iranians wish each other Nowruz mobarak bad!  from 6.14 am (CET) on 20th March, the start of the new Persian year 1391. Nowruz, or Noruz, Nuruz, Norous, Norooz, literally means 'new day'. The festival is celebrated by 300 million people from north-western China to the Mediterranean, in Iran, many parts of Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Caucasus and amongst the Kurds. It is celebrated by Zoarastrians, Muslims, Christians, Agnostics and Atheists. In the ruins of Persepolis, near the present day city of Shiraz, there are a set of reliefs depicting people ascending the stairs to the apadana, bearing gifts for the king. According to some experts, these reliefs are an early depiction of the Nowruz ceremony.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

ECONOMICS / HISTORY: Reagan's Time-Bomb (K. Kęciek)

President Ronald Reagan cut taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor. He greatly reduced social spending, defeated trade unions and left Americans at the mercy of ruthless market forces. He sent single mothers into low-paid jobs, bringing about the feminisation of poverty. He left behind an enormous budget deficit. He revived a predatory brand of capitalism, free from effective control and focused entirely on profit and the commodification of everything.

George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, authors of 'America: A Narrative History', pointed out that under the Reagan administration, the construction of affordable housing was stopped whilst at the same time slums were being demolished, thus leaving many homeless. Hospital care for the mentally ill was scrapped, resulting in countless beggars and tramps living in cardboard cities-- scenes more often associated with Calcutta than with the cities of a superpower. 'Reaganomics'-- the moniker used to describe the economic policies of the 40th US president-- were a time-bomb which in the end went off. The effects are to be seen in the current crisis of capitalism and world finance, whose final consequences are hard to predict.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

OPINION: Piotr Żuk-- On Class Discrimination

Identical social phenomena are often lablled with different names. It all depends who they are associated with. The language used everyday in the media, government announcements and casual conversation is full of prejudices and stereotypes. Whenever we hear about poor neighbourhoods in the media, the same connotations appear-- dysfunctional communtites inhabited by alcoholics and broken families where one should think twice about venturing into at night. According to capitalist morality and market culture, poverty itself has become a pathology.

The smiling faces we see in countless adverts are usually middle-class faces. They are the heroes of our time. They act as role models for the rest of society, most of whom aspire to be like them. They display the greatest virtues one can have in our contemporary capitalist society-- flexibility, entrepreneurship, assertiveness, creativity, innovation and other traits from the Newspeak dictionary.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

OPINION: Bronisław Łagowski-- On Russia's Elections

According to reliable polls Vladimir Putin is set to win Russia's presidential election in the first round. By the time you read this he will already have won, much to the dismay of most of the Polish media. Opposition groups in Moscow have said that if Putin dares to win in the first round it will be proof that the vote has been rigged. Massive anti-Putin demonstrations are already planned.

For there to be democracy, there needs to be a government which does not rig elections and there needs to be a society which respects election results as binding. This sometimes makes it hard to decide which side is behaving undemocratically. In many African countries elections often end up with body counts rather than vote counts. It is not unsual for free elections to lead directly to civil war. After Piłsudski's May coup in 1926, Poland did not see free and fair elections until 1989-- all the others, whether under the Sanacja regime or the Communist People's Republic (PRL), were falsified in one way or another.

 The French, who are so keen to promote free elections worldwide, have an electoral regulation which means that a party which for years has achieved around 14% of the votes sometimes gets 1 seat in the National Assembly but more often ends up with none. The National Front's presidential candidate has 20% support and 70% of those polled believe she should be allowed to take part in the presidential election. Nonetheless, the establishment have closed ranks and she is unable to collect the 500 signatures of local government officials which are necessary to join the race for president. When Grigory Yavlinsky was barred from taking part in elections on a formality, it was seen as evidence of a lack of democracy. France, on the other hand, is by definition democratic so every aspect of its electoral system is democratic.

Monday, 5 March 2012

ECONOMICS: The Book of Genesis, 'The Matrix' and Magical Glasses of Beer-- an Interview with Czech Economist Tomáš Sedláček (Highly Recommended)

Q: What is wrong with the economy?

A: It has become a tool without a soul. In other words, the question isn't whether or not the economy works but whether or not it works as we would expect it to. That is a difficult question to answer because first we must decide how the economy should work.

Q: How would we like it to work?

A: First and foremost it should be fair. The problem is that we need to start making value judgements. As I try to show in my book, Economics was always based upon values but we have tried to escape from this in modern time. The title of the book-- 'Economics of Good and Evil'-- is provocative because, supposedly, Economics should not concern itself with good and evil. The first rule of 'Fight Club' is not to talk about 'Fight Club'. The first rule of Economics is not to talk about good and evil, but in real life we do talk about them.