I've been meaning to write about the political corruption cases rocking CiU and the PP over the last few weeks, but every time I start an article, a new case appears. Since Gürtel, we've had (to name a few) Palau, Sabadell, Lloret… and Bárcenas. All the cases are serious but Bárcenas is the big daddy of corruption scandals. It's is a case which could – and should – bring down the government.
Originally linked with Gürtel, the Bárcenas case involves significant cash payments made on a monthly basis to senior members of the PP by its then treasurer, Luis Bárcenas. The money, mainly party donations and kickbacks, was handed out in envelopes. This went on for about 25 years until it suddenly stopped a few years ago, apparently on Mariano Rajoy's orders.
Bárcenas also benefited from the tax amnesty which was one of Rajoy's first policies. He managed to legalize millions of Euros kept previously in Swiss bank accounts.
What's stunning about this case is that firstly, this isn't mere anonymous claims made in El Mundo. It's stuff that Bárcenas and his legal team seems to be admitting to. Secondly, Mariano Rajoy himself allegedly received €25,000 a year for 11 years in dodgy money. And this may have gone on until 2009.
With a spring and summer of protests on the way, I'm starting to wonder if Rajoy's government can survive. If it does, it will be through our failure to act as citizens and residents of this corrupt country.
First, the mystery of 14 pays per year (all before tax):
18000 / 12 = 1500
x 12 = 18000
18000 / 14 = 1285.71
x 14 = 18000
It's the same amount of money, numb nuts.
And what's the point moving to Germany when they'll only give you a €450 minijob anyway? I think some 'Spain bloggers' (a broadly middle-aged, self serving, real-estate-hawking lobby) need to learn a bit more about Spain and listen a little less to Germany.
Happy new year.
CiU and ERC have agreed the terms for forming a government in Catalonia. The major detail behind the agreement is that a referendum on Catalan independence 'will be held in 2014'. The pact comes almost as late as it could – the government needs to be formed by next Monday to prevent new elections being held.
Also agreed on are at least 2 new taxes designed to prevent (or more likely, reduce) further cuts in public spending (updated info below). A tax on bank deposits (my understanding is that it's not financial transactions that are being taxed, but people or firms putting money in the bank – so it sounds like a regressive tax at the moment, but a tax rather than cuts, all the same), and a tax on sweet fizzy drinks. Both taxes are being criticised by the Spanish government. Other taxes being considered are a restored inheritance tax and a tax on the nuclear power plants. Impressively, CiU's "no alternative" mantra looks to have been a smokescreen for pushing through the cuts it wanted. Funny, that.
The agreement on the referendum isn't quite as firm as the newspaper headlines are making it sound. It depends on the socio-political situation in 2014 and agreement between the two party leaders that it's the right time to go ahead. So there are plenty of opportunities for various CiU bosses to derail the process between now and then. It seems that the referendum was the sticking point that caused these negotiations to stretch on for weeks. This doesn't bode well for CiU's commitment to the consulta but it indicates that ERC's Oriol Junqueras has stuck to his guns.
The negotiations are ongoing, apparently. Artur Mas will be confirmed as president on Friday.
UPDATE: Some more finance info from the news – tax will also be raised on large stores. The total extra revenues expected from all the new taxes is about €1bn. The Catalan government had previously claimed it needs to make €4bn of cuts next year. So we're only a quarter of the way there. Oh, and the Spanish finance minister has said that the Generalitat doesn't have the right to raise taxes by decree. Curiously, it does have the right to cut health spending and cancel taxes by decree. Hopefully, this will force the PP to investigate similar measures for the whole of Spain.
I'll add that this is proof that demonstrations can have some effect. Unacceptable austerity and 2 general strikes led to an increase in support for leftwing groups in Catalonia. And the September 11 demo has led to a pact to hold a referendum on independence, however flimsy that pact might turn out to be. I think it's important to recognise that this is not the work of Artur Mas at all. He tried to take advantage of a situation (he wasn't running things in the background as the loony anti democrats would have you believe) and then voters punished him. The war against austerity is not won. It is more important, I still believe, to beat austerity than to hold a referendum. But the referendum must be held.
#11S and #14N helped bring this pact about. Those of us who supported either movement, or both, must keep the pressure on our politicians.
The following text is borrowed from the CCOO.
The European Trades Union Congress has called for a day of Action and Solidarity across Europe to mobilize in opposition to the austerity policies being promoted by the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, and call for a change in policies in Catalonia, Spain and Europe.
This General Strike is a labor, social and no-consumption strike, supported by over 200 organisations in the anti-cuts alliance, the Plataforma Prou Retallades.
1 Massive unemployment: in Catalonia there are 900,000 unemployed and 100,000 households with no income.
2 Alarming levels of poverty: 30% of the Catalan population at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
3 Increasing poverty among the employed: wage cuts, worsening conditions and job insecurity across the public and private sector.
4 The Labor Reform by the governing Partido Popular dismantles labor relations, making it easier and cheaper to sack staff, block collective bargaining and increase the working week.
5 No future for young people in Catalonia: 53% of young people are unemployed and more than 10,000 have emigrated abroad.
6 Cuts in research leading to a brain drain of researchers abroad and losing out on a highly qualified generation.
7 Cuts in education: 6,000 jobs have been cut whilst student numbers have increased by 20,000! Higher tuition fees for university & professional training, cuts in school meals provision, nurseries and infant schools.
8 Cuts in health care, introduction of prescription charges, and waiting lists have increased by 45%.
9 Cuts and limits to unemployment benefit and criminalizing those who receive welfare benefits.
10 A bail-out only worsens this situation dominated by austerity measures: higher unemployment, cuts to benefits and pensions, more poverty, higher interest rate payments to financial speculators.
11 Increased financial inequality: rises in VAT and costs of basic services, penalizing freelance workers, whilst declaring an amnesty for tax fraudsters and failure to rein in the unpaid tax in offshore accounts.
12 Thousands have lost their homes and savings.
13 Suffocating culture and arts with cuts and commercializing creativity.
14 Repression of demonstrations and attacks on our democratic rights.
There are many sympathetic workers out there who claim that "a strike will achieve nothing". I agree that a 2 or 3 day strike would be better than a 1 day strike. But best of all would be everyone who is interested in getting a fair deal for themselves and their families and friends, simply backing the strike. A high percentage of support will show that more and more people are sick of the PP's and CiU's destructive economic policies.
So, everybody, get behind this day of action before you say it won't work. This is a question of your power to say no to bad governance.
Many of those questions remain valid. But my main focus has shifted. This reduced list should read as a demand from those leading and supporting the independence movement that they for once and for all clarify various matters that I believe worry many people currently. Because if Catalonia really will be the 'Next State in Europe', these matters need to be clarified now, not later.
1 – What social model will an independent Catalonia have?
While the right are currently in power, and have governed for the majority of Catalonia's post-Franco years, there is a significant section of Catalan society that supports parties of the left. We're deeply unhappy about the cuts that Artur Mas has made to public health, education, social assistance and public sector pay during the financial crisis. Mas has blamed these cuts on Spain's mishandling of the national economy. Very well: if that is true, he must now guarantee to restore, improve and protect public sending and investment in the event of independence.
2 – Will you now, and forever, forgo all claims on the territories in Spain and France sometimes referred to as the Catalan Countries?
I shouldn't need to explain the importance of this question. The only chance of success as a state depends on France's and Spain's recognition. That won't happen unless you formally reject territorial claims on Rosselló, Valencia, the Franja and the Balearics.
3 – What status for non-Spanish residents in Catalonia?
OK, this is a personal one, but it affects lots of people and many businesses. Will you now guarantee our status as permanent residents? What chances for citizenship will we have?
As the crisis in capitalism deepens, the situation in which Spain finds itself seems increasingly hopeless.
Pretty much everyone I've spoken to about Spain recently seems agreed that Spain – and maybe the world – is approaching some sort of cataclysmic reckoning. This sentiment might well be declared a sentimental form of millennialism - after all, aren't we rich and comfortable enough to entertain fantasies of impending doom? – were it not for the gentle crackle you can hear in the air here. This crackle, this oceanic roar heard from a great distance, is the sound of millions of people waiting for the decisive moment at which they will try once again to reclaim their rights.
Spain is fucked. And not because of Berlin or London, but because of us, the Spaniards who have done nothing to stop Spain getting fucked. While Catalans moan about motorway tolls, Asturian miners are blockading motorways with flaming barricades. And protestors are being shot by police with rubber bullets (bullets that give the police a chance to shoot you multiple times rather than just once – possibly the highest embodiment of planned obsolescence at state/capital level), and Greece never quite got the revolution that seemed so possible just a few weeks ago.
Andrea Fabra, daughter of a repulsive conservative politician from Castelló, summed up the attitude of Spain's political class with impressive candour this week. As PM Mariano Rajoy announced higher VAT (designed to hurt the poor) and deeper cuts to the unemployment benefits system (designed to hurt the hopeless), Fabra uttered the immortal words: "Fuck 'em!". She wasn't talking about her colleagues in the PP who joyfully applauded as Rajoy delivered the negative prognosis. She was referring to the 25% of Spaniards who are unemployed. "Fuck 'em!", she declared because that's how she and her colleagues feel about Spaniards in general. If you're not bright enough to fuck everyone else, then fuck you.
The background crackle just intensified a little. Catalonia's conservatives, CiU, have been making themselves busy recently finding ways to criminalise protest. One assumes that pro-flag, pro-independence protest will still be officially encouraged. We've had two useless general strikes in two years with decent turn-outs but no effect on policy. We had millions of people marching against an illegal war and the government ignored that too. It is clear that they do not listen to argument. And when protest is derided so openly by those in power, the same people who raise a regressive tax in order to pay off crooked banks, the citizens must use other tools to make themselves heard.
Someone told me the other day that the only way we in Spain can end this cycle of corrupt parasitism is with war but that understandably, no Spaniard wanted to recreate the disaster of the 1930s. I hope and pray that this is nothing more than sentimental millennialism. But at the same time, I can't see a way out. What hope does this country have, then?
Happy May Day!
A few months ago, I resolved to take more of an active role in politics in Catalonia. I'm not planning to run for mayor or anything like that, but as a disenfranchised non-citizen my options are basically limited to joining and supporting political organisations. In a way, I had been heading in this direction for the 10 years I've lived here. I decided to join a political party for the first time since my arrival in 2002.
For me, a political party ought to be a broad church, but a united one. After experiences with arguably over-ideological groups in the UK, I needed to find an organisation which reflects a plurality of opinions with an agreed general direction. The federated nature of many parties here does seem to offer that sort of broadness (but let us not forget that many parties, including Labour, are federations).
What, then, is my political ideology? What are its main components and how important are they to me, relative to each other?
There should be little doubt from the posts on this blog that I'm a supporter of left wing politics. Marx continues to offer the best analysis of capital and socialism the best answer. Egalitarianism, a defence of workers' rights, opposition to exploitation and colonialism: these are concepts that for me are tied-up inevitably with socialism. And at a time when capitalism is in such serious crisis, when political parties across Europe are eagerly tearing up the social contract we have enjoyed for decades, we have to be even more strident in our defence of rights and benefits that were hard-won and remain well-deserved.
Catalan independence: a tricky subject. I've been careful on this blog not to express a clear position on whether or not I support the concept of independence for Catalonia. I should think it's clear that I've leaned in that direction but I've never been explicit about my opinion because I've genuinely never been sure of it. My ideological position here is that a majority of people in a geographical area who want to claim the right to self-determination should be allowed to do so. If this were the case in Catalonia, I would support a push for independence. I don't believe that's the case currently, but I do think that as time goes by, general 'soft' support for independence is increasing. I also think that independence from Spain would be almost impossible to achieve. But that's a point for another day.
When we look at the challenges that face us in the coming years, many of them come down to poor custodianship of our planet. We need to embrace green policies wherever we can, and support alternative energies, public transport over personal vehicles, sustainable development and agriculture. I feel strongly that this beautiful planet can be protected, without the vast de-population supported by apocalyptic doomsday freaks. Better management of resources, for the good of all, can be achieved.
A few months ago, I joined a political party which I think represents my views. Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (ICV-EUiA 'Initiative for Catalonia Greens – United and Alternative Left') is of the left, defends equality for all, supports the right to self-determination and promotes green policies. This blog will continue as it has always been: not much to read, but it's always independent. That won't change. But I've made a resolution for change and call on my friends to do the same.
Happy May Day!
With the approval of savage labor reforms and likely even more savage cuts to come, tomorrow's general strike is a vital chance to show that working people in Spain are willing to stand up for themselves and say ENOUGH. We demand dignity.
Reasons for supporting the strike:
- Even the PP accepts their reforms won't increase employment
- Spain is in recession, making job security more vital than ever
- Workers can now be fired for 9 days' medical leave, even with a doctor's note
- The reforms strike particularly harshly at the young and newly employed
- The reforms are designed to destroy workers' collective power
- The reforms incentivize putting women on short-term contracts, widening the gender gap in the workplace
- Emergency redundancies can now be declared even when a company is still growing
The PP and CiU are determined to destroy the hard-won social model in Spain. They try to blame public spending for the crisis but it's the private sector that really caused these problems. So they're introducing privatization into the health service, cuts to education budgets, cuts to civil service wages (not for diputados, though, of course), cuts to pensions… And all the while, unemployment grows.
This strike is a vital opportunity to express your anger at a set of labor reforms and spending cuts which won't create employment but will only deepen the crisis for working people in Spain.
Mariano Rajoy's PP will win tomorrow's general elections in Spain. The size of the majority it achieves will shape Spanish and Catalan politics for the next few years.
The prospect of seeing the PP in power again after 8 years is not a happy one. While I'm no fan of the PSOE (I think I called them 'the very worst party in Spain' at one point, though I can't find a link), my suspicion is that before long many who loathe the Socialists will remember how much more they loathed the PP last time they governed.
In Barcelona, the general mood seems to be one of totally ignoring these elections. After a swing to the right in recent Catalan and city hall elections, most people here seem to be trying to avoid thinking about having the PP in government. My prediction is that the turnout will be very low.
It is once the PP take over government (in a few weeks' time, according to Spanish electoral law) that the dread will really set in. This is a party running for office in a country on the verge of massive economic disaster which has failed to express any coherent economic policies whatsoever. Their posters include slogans like "Primero, el Empleo" (Jobs First) but their policies will doubtless be savage cuts and successive rounds of redundancies and privatisation.
At the same time, it looks increasingly possible that Spain could be forced into needing a bailout from the European Central Bank or the IMF. I say 'forced' because categorcially, this does not need to happen. The pressure being applied to successive European countries is organised, focused and has at its core the aim to destroy the Euro. Politically, I'm no great fan of the EU. But forcing Spain's exit from the Euro along with other countries in 2012 could threaten the very existence of the EU. I'd rather try to make it better for people.
In Catalonia, there are already some hints that the PP might try to buy an end to the Linguistic Immersion education policy with a fairer share of tax revenues. CiU, craven demagogues that they are, may well go for this. I worry too that fascist groups like 'Plataforma Per Catalunya' (Catalan fascists whose electoral pamphlets are seemingly only published in Castilian Spanish), may win a seat or two.
Finally, I expect this PP government to be faced with huge protests and strikes. One of the many problems with a PSOE government pushing through neo-liberal policies was the failure of the unions to properly challenge them. Now that the PP will be in government, there will be more inclination on the part of unions and workers to fight back. The Indignats (which inspired the Occupy movement in the USA) will also probably fight back harder: I'll bet that more than a few Indignats have voted PSOE in the past and will do again, but that basically none of them are PP supporters. Also, the harder left wing party Izquierda Unida might fare better at the polls this year than for the last decade or so: they may be able to use this to force a more left wing opposition.
So here we are on the edge of a precipice, you and me. We face the prospect of a government which will not have won on merit but by default, with no policies for saving Spain's economy, but hopefully with broad opposition from a curiously revitalised left. People might not be interested in these elections but the next four years will be anything but boring.
I've been in San Francisco since last Saturday and I leave this today. It's a short visit and work-related but as my first visit to the USA, I thought I'd jot down some thoughts.
It's a pleasant place. No one would say that the city itself is particularly beautiful (the towers of the financial district are particularly foul) but its surrounding geography is gorgeous, as are the portals that link the City with the outside: the Bay and the Golden Gate bridges. SF sums up that late 20th century ideal of a business-oriented city with a sporty, arty, foody vibe. It's kind of like Sydney, or at least that's the place it most reminds me of. The difference is that SF is apparently fed by new technologies while Sydney banks the wealth obtained in vast mines.
San Franciscans do not enjoy jokes about earthquakes. Or even jokey remarks. Many people here seem to be expecting the Big One which, depending on how big it is, could realistically destroy the whole place. It's "long overdue" but I hope that it never strikes, at least not while there are people living here.
Food and Beverages
San Francisco considers itself to be something of a 'foody' city. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I didn't get to eat at Boulevard, just up the road from my hotel because I couldn't get anyone to come with me. Likewise, the French Laundry, out in Napa. Most of what I did eat here (a couple of gourmet hamburgers, some Thai curry, a couple of traditional brasserie dinners, Chinese – twice) was very good and quite affordable. The local beer scene is lively and tasty, and even the city's standard brew – Anchor Steam – is pretty good. I really enjoyed Napa Smith's Organic IPA, with which the hotel cunningly stocked my room's minibar. I didn't get to try much local wine but I enjoyed a Conn Creek cabernet sauvignon (2008, I think), over a couple of nights.
I stayed at the Harbor Court hotel, on the embarcadero (old port). It's close to our US office and so was pretty convenient for work. This is quite a touristy area, but it's at the bottom of the financial district, which is where I found an Apple Store kind enough to sell me an iPad (over €100 cheaper than in Europe). Chinatown is fun, but I suspect it would have been a lot more fun 30 years ago. The Mission is my favorite district. It's traditionally a latino neighborhood and has also played host to a range of great restaurants, galleries, bars and stores for decades. We ate some pretty good Thai food here and I also had dinner with Chris Barr from Yahoo in a place called Grub. The meal there was good, but I was suffering slightly from the Korean kimchi burrito with hot sauce that I'd eaten for lunch. Also in the Mission is the Pirate Store, 826 Valencia Street. This is also the spiritual home of The Believer, my current favorite periodical (I'm going to keep pushing this until you all subscribe). The Pirate Store has all the supplies any pirate might need, from lard to fathoms and siren silencers. It's next door to a taxidermy store. These are two of the best shops I've ever been to. I didn't see much of the Castro, though we did drive through it.
My reason for visiting San Francisco should be evident to anyone with even an inkling of what I do for a living. As the world capital of 'new technologies', especially web services and mobile devices, it's at the center of my work day. Indeed, it was practically absurd that I hadn't visited before. But there you have it. People here frequently exchange tips and recommendations for apps, and more than in Barcelona or London (that I've seen at any rate), all decisions are predicated on the advice of an iPhone or Android device. I had kind of hoped there'd be some city-wide high-speed wireless offering but this wasn't the case. Facebook had a major event in town while I was here (in fact, I was supposed to be there bit due to a mix up, that didn't happen). The local newspapers often report corporate stories at Yahoo, Twitter, Apple and Google on their front pages. This is a city imbued with a technological optimism. I shudder to think what could happen to the industry if an earthquake really does strike. I suspect that this may be one factor that encourages some firms to prefer Palo Alto and other cities further away from the faultline. Well, that and taxes.
And now I must put my California-designed notebook away and check out of my hotel. I'm coming back to Catalonia. That's a great feeling.
There are a few photos from my visit on Google+ here. You don't need to be a member of Google+ to view them. But you should sign up anyway: it's a pretty good service.
Numerous pieces of evidence have surfaced that seem to prove that the Mossos d'Esquadra, Catalonia's autonomous police force, used agents provocateurs during yesterday's #15M movement protests outside the Catalan parliament. The protesters had gathered in the parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona in an attempt to prevent MPs from accessing the parliament, where they were scheduled to vote in a raft of austerity measures and tax cuts.
The most complete video on YouTube (below) shows 'protesters' attempting to stir things up, then donning balaclava-style masks, before being escorted by police to safety, after they had been identified as troublemakers by other protesters. Equipped with hands-free devices, which might have been mobile phones or radios, the infiltrators seemed to be well organised.
This is, of course, an old tactic. Since time immemorial, police agents have attempted to trigger violence in otherwise peaceful protest movements in order to weaken popular support. With support from politicians and the media, it seems like the police have achieved their aim. The media, of course, is basically not reporting this news. The #15M movement insists that it does not support violent protest… indeed, in its Twitter feed yesterday, it pleaded with protesters to remain peaceful. A later protest at plaça Sant Jaume (seat of the Catalan government) proceeded entirely peacefully, which lends further credence to the protestors' claims. Meanwhile, the budget was approved without amendments, with some Catalan MPs forced to fly into the parliament with police and fire-rescue helicopters.
I think it's important that as many people as possible see this video… indeed, since last night, more than 100,000 people have watched it. Pass it on, as it's vital that popular support for the indignats isn't washed away on a lie.
Many people who live in Spain, as well as lots of observers outside the country, have been asking the same question for the last few months: where are the young people?
With youth unemployment as high as 46% and the PSOE ('Socialist') government using the economic crisis as an excuse to force through radical changes to the country's social framework, why weren't Spanish youths protesting on the street? The clues to the answer lay in the failure of September's general strike. Young people weren't interested. This lack of interest in officially organised and accepted methods of protest (the strike was organised by major trade unions, generally seen to be partners of the PSOE) wasn't the same as apathy, though it did initially appear similar.
The events of the last couple of days in Madrid, then, are heartening. Thousands of young people, using Facebook and Twitter to organise, converged on the capital's iconic Puerta del Sol square and protested against the lack of real democracy, the spending cuts, the incredibly high youth unemployment (higher than in many of the north African countries where revolutions were fuelled by similar complaints), new copyright laws, and much more. Hundreds have also camped out in Barcelona's Plaça de Catalunya, mingling with bemused tourists and surrounded by itchy-looking Mossos d'Esquadra (Catalan police with a reputation for enjoying beating-up students and anarchists). The protest camps are organised: popular commissions have been established to distribute information, food, blankets, legal advice.
The Spanish political establishment, focused only on this weekend's municipal elections, was taken by surprise. Its response has been telling: Barcelona city hall switched-off the city's webcam of Plaça Catalunya. Then the Junta Electoral, Spain's elections commission, noted that the protest camps would have to be cleared because they are in breach of Spain's electoral law. The PSOE (PSC in Catalonia) has tried to make it sound like they sympathise with the protestors, Barcelona's mayor bemoaning "international speculators and the damage they do" (the same speculators he sees it has his job to entice into our city). In Madrid, the police have moved to close access to the protest camp apparently in preparation to fulfill the Junta Electoral's controversial and unpopular judgement.
What will happen over the weekend remains unclear. It is likely that the police will attempt to clear both camps. If they only clear Madrid's, then Barcelona's might grow. Whatever happens, it would be wrong to continue to ask why Spain's youth has done nothing to oppose the country's corrupt politics. The kids are on the streets. And they want radical change.
The latest issue of Monocle magazine includes a report on work hours around the world. It starts off by interviewing one Nuria Chinchilla of IESE Barcelona (where I get sent for re-education from time to time). The segment includes this line (written by the author, Sophie Grove, not la Chinchilla):
It's 15.00 in Barcelona, the time when every shady bench is taken up by snoozing Catalans.
Upon reading this, my immediate response was: "Well this is utter bollocks, no one in Barcelona still works those hours. So how can I believe Grove when she writes about South Korea?".
But then I thought to myself: before I write a letter to the editor of Monocle stating the above, maybe I should check with the half-dozen miscreants who prowl these pages looking for a fight. Maybe I'm lucky: I work for a fairly forward-thinking Catalan company which has never had a policy supporting 2 or 3 hour lunchbreaks. But perhaps I'm in the minority. So the question is:
In your Barcelona-based job, are you expected to take a lunch break of more than 1 hour a day?
Additional points awarded to anyone who agrees with me that rather than the hackneyed siesta/lazy Spaniard theme, Grove might have done better to cover the jornada intensiva, which lets me work an extra 45 mins Monday through Thursday so that I can leave at 15.00 on Friday. Comments in general about work hours here, in Catalonia and Spain are always welcome.
As usual, you can vote over there to the right of this post >>>>>