Tuesday, 23 October 2018

It's Getting Tight (Can we vote in May next year or not, pretty please?)

A community needs to have its spokespeople: who represent them, speak for them, collect taxes in their name, spend the common money wisely (without stealing more than 20%), plan for the future and celebrate the past. The town hall (in case the penny hadn't dropped) needs to attract extra funding from the central, regional and provincial authorities, chase after the elusive tourist (without buggering up the community for the residents), educate and entertain its children, provide culture for its general population, and protect its poor and infirm through social programs.
No doubt I've missed a few points, but, in short, the town hall needs to represent its population, and be chosen democratically by its population.
No tricks, like adding people to the padrón a few months before the elections (twenty or more people at one address?). No tricks, like pruning the padrón or neglecting to tell the foreign residents that they have to register to vote.
No tricks, like not telling the British residents if they can vote at all.
While that key question is being asked - no one is answering.
There are seventeen British councillors in Almería - and even they don't know what will happen. (The best info I can find for Spain in general comes from 2008, when there were 37 British councillors across the country.)
In 2014, a national newspaper published an article titled 'Immigrants in local politics?'. The article
said this: 'The political inclusion of immigrants is still very unequal with respect to the indigenous population. Despite the extension of their electoral rights, they are under-represented among the final number of elected councillors, and to a lesser extent on electoral lists'.
Some data was forthcoming: Towns with 15% foreign population - had less that 1% representation in local politics.
Foreigners currently make up 10% of the population of Spain.
In Spain, there are 240,934 British residents legally registered by the Ministry of the Interior (about the size of the city of Granada). In Almería, there are 14,318 Brits.
All of these, if over 18 years old, can currently vote (until told otherwise).
So who will tell us, pretty please, and when?
The provincial newspaper Almería Hoy looks at the current number of foreigners in each and every town in Almería. They note that in Mojácar, almost half of the entire population (from information provided by the town hall) is foreign - indeed, out of a total population of 6,630 inhabitants, 3,005 'mainly British' - are foreign.
Will we have the vote in May 2019, following the Brexit, or not?
Because without it, the town hall of Mojácar will cease to represent the wishes of around half of its citizens.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Toros en Albox

There is a bullfight in Albox (Almería) on November 3rd at 5.00pm - apparently the first to be held in that locality in fifteen years. The three bullfighters are two matadores Julio Benítez 'El Cordobés' and the Murcian Filiberto Martínez; the third participant is the rejoneadora Ana Rita, who fights from horseback.
Tickets are available at the Agencia de Viajes Tagili, the Bar Whynot and in the Ayuntamiento in the offices of Cultura y Festejos.
While excitement is building in some quarters, other local citizens are not so enthused. A Facebook page with the rather emotive name of Albox without animal torture (here, enjoy!) had, by Monday 22 October, 416 members. Those who enjoy seeing gruesome pictures should feel right at home here. I've already been told about the Vaseline in the eyes, cotton wool in their nostrils (!) and squitter-drugs to weaken the bulls (who cost, by the way, some 6,000€ each) - but, with a bit of luck, the spectators, the media and the bullfighters will never find out about this rather improbable sabotage.
Meanwhile, will the protestors be happy to merely vent on this Facebook page of theirs, or will they escalate their indignation and protest outside the bullring on the day?
The Albox fights will be the last held in Spain this year as the season ends and many matadores head for Mexico and South America. 

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The 2019 Budget - almost

Some exciting news this week – potentially – as the two main parties of the left agree over the details of next year’s budget. So far, the PNV regionalist party has agreed to support the plan. El País in English leads with ‘Spain’s PM and Podemos leader sign deal for biggest wage hike in 40 years’. Well, yes, that’s certainly a part of the deal. Spain’s minimum wage would go up from 736€ a month to 900€ (France, by contrast, is 1500€). A meme on Facebook says ‘900€? I’ll be able to realise my life’s ambition of eating an avocado’. Funny, because, avocados are a bit overrated, and funny too, because with 736 euros, or even 900 euros, one still isn’t exactly wealthy.
How many people working – at least in the orbit of us wealthy foreign residents (er, mostly) – earn 736€ a month for a full-time job? Not many, we hope. Fruit packers and some other agricultural jobs… cleaners perhaps…? It’s a slave wage certainly and we probably shouldn't worry too much
about the lowest paid sending their money off to Offshore Tax Paradises.
Not everyone agrees. The two main opposition parties think that raising the minimum wage is a bad idea. Albert Rivera from Ciudadanos (4,800€ a month) and Pablo Casado (5,700€ a month) are both against the idea (although Rivera was campaigning for 1,000€ per month not so long ago). El País again: ‘...The CEOE employers’ association has already talked about “the negative effects” of such a move on collective bargaining, wages and the economy in general. If implemented, it would be the biggest rise in 40 years...’.
There is much more in the budget that the raising of the minimum wage, and the availability of avocados.
However, and who knows – it could even make sense – as the figures are balanced here.
Top-earners, those who earn more than 130,000€ a year, can expect a rise in their income tax and ‘large fortunes’ would pay more tax as well. Rents would be controlled in certain cases. As El Huff Post says - ‘...While the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox are fighting for the same ground on the right, the PSOE and Podemos are laying the foundations of an agreement that behind the numbers hides the principle of a close and lasting collaboration in the medium and long term...’. From Valencia Plaza comes a note on another useful subject: ‘...under the heading "Health is a universal right and not a business", the signatories of the pact argue that "The excuse of the economic crisis has been used to weaken public health and encourage its progressive privatization, which is why it is still necessary to shield our health system against privatization flows and attacks by interested sectors.”...’. Furthermore, and again quoting Valencia Plaza, ‘...the Government and Unidos Podemos have also agreed to reform the ‘stamps’ system of self-employed workers to link it to their real income, guaranteeing that those with lower incomes pay a lower contribution...’. El Huff Post has a full list of the accords here.
But the success of the socially progressive budget plan depends on
uncertain support from the Catalan separatists who understandably ‘...request the Prosecutor's Office to withdraw the charges against their imprisoned and exiled leaders to support the General Budget. The government view on this is that such a solution is impossible given the separation of powers in force in Spain’, and, secondly, on the approval of the EU. To thwart this second condition, the PP leader Pablo Casado has flown to Brussels to put his oar in the deal, much to the amazement of his fellow Spaniards...
If all goes according tp plan, the budgets should finally be approved in February or March.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Women's Rights in Spain

As we read of the furore regarding Judge Brett Kavanaugh over in Washington and his alleged behaviour towards women, the broad picture remains and once again spikes: women are treated to a different standard. In Spain, relieved, we see that we live in ‘the fifth country in the world where women feel the safest’ (behind Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Slovenia), but even so, we have had 58 women killed by their companions so far this year in Spain. The #MeToo movement, the heart of the new feminist wave that focuses on sexual violence, has called for a general strike across Spain for the International Women’s Day on March 8th 2019 (following their successful protest last year).
Spain is nevertheless moving forward rapidly in women’s rights. We read ‘Spain’s Supreme Court has ruled that any and all physical contact of a sexual nature, where deliberate, and irrespective of how brief it is, counts as a criminal offence. This ground-breaking and necessary verdict means grabbing someone's bottom, breast or legs in a pub, a crowd or on public transport, for example, is no longer simply a tort or civil offence but attracts criminal charges on the grounds of 'sexual abuse'...’.
We also read of a specific case here, as ‘a man is sentenced to a year in prison for touching a woman on the bottom’ outside a bar in Almería.
Spain then, is moving forward in its respect towards las españolas. This is a worthy thing.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Following Brexit, Who's a Resident?

I found this the other day, it's a two-year padrón renewal from the town hall for someone with an American passport. She owns property here in our pueblo, but she is still an 'extranjera no comunitaria sin autorización de residencia permanente'. A non-EU foreigner without authorization of permanent residence.
Now, residence give you rights. As EU citizens, we Brits don't need a work permit, we can vote in local elections, we don't need a visa and we have automatic rights to enter Spain (I have a visitor staying with me from Canada who, despite a two-week return ticket, was asked to provide either a receipt for a hotel booking or a confirmatory letter from me before being allowed entry at the Madrid airport).
But, we British residents have Residencia - some of us.  Those that don't will of course be out on a limb. Don't think that owning property will save you, any more than it saves the American above.
But, those that do, (and check your police green card) will find that we are, since the dreadful Interior Minister of Spain Rubalcaba in 2008 removed our tarjetas de residencia and gave us the dreadful passport/green-card combo, actually have a 'Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión': a certificate of registry of an EU citizen.
But, following Brexit, we British will be in breach of the above.
Will the Spanish let it go, or will they offer to re-register us as 'Residents' after some extra formalities have been completed? Perhaps having a certain monthly income from abroad? Perhaps the 240,000 Britons registered on the padrón, and rather less Britons in possession of a proper residencia, will find that Brexit will be bringing some unwelcome change.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Censorship Only Works when It's Your Side Doing It

Stung in some way by the hostility of the mainstream media against the government (President Sánchez is known in some circles as the ‘okupa’, the ‘Squatter in the Moncloa’, following his successful vote of confidence despite only having 84 deputies in the 350-strong Parliament), we read of further socialist moves (see here) towards censorship.
‘The Vice President of the Government, Carmen Calvo, said that "freedom of expression does not resist everything, does not welcome everything" and therefore believes that the EU will have to start reviewing jointly the legislation on this matter. Calvo made these considerations at the opening of the XVI Journalism Day of the Association of European Journalists, which this year asks "who pays for the lie? Is the truth paid?". "We need security", said the Spanish Vice-president, who recalled that certain European countries are taking decisions on regulation in the area of freedom of expression and the right to information...’.
But, while the right-wing media may be all in favour of protecting its product from smaller news services, it doesn’t want to be itself muzzled: ‘The Government's announcement of trying to limit the freedom of expression of the media, coinciding in time with journalistic information that puts different members of the Executive in check, has caused surprise, anger and indignation among journalist associations and opposition parties. The Federation of Associations of Journalists of Spain (FAPE) rejects any attempt to modify the right to freedom of information. The PP and Cs denounce an attempt to "muzzle" journalists and "kill the messenger"’... El Mundo here. From another source, we read an even more worried reaction from the press: ‘The FAPE rejects any attempt at modification because "every time governments try to regulate freedom of expression they in fact only limit it"’.
And finally, from eldiario.es comes ‘Let's not get confused. What the mediatic arm of the plot against the Government does is not journalism. Its end is not service to society. It's dirty work for the client...’.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

The Anti-taurino Agenda in the Brit Media

It's an odd thing about the local ex-pat press - the only time they mention bullfighting is when something goes wrong and a bullfighter gets hurt or killed (The Weenie is currently harping on about an incident at Madrid's las Ventas).
Are we to understand that the ex-pat press, printed and run by foreign journalists (and, er, other people), look down on the Spanish and their traditions?
Or perhaps they would like their readers to emulate them.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Dodgy University Titles

It all started with an arrest for shoplifting. It wasn’t much, just a couple of pots of face cream from the local supermarket, and the whole thing was hushed up afterwards. A couple of years later, the shoplifter, Cristina Cifuentes, president of the Madrid Community (and of some 6.5 million souls) was found by a then obscure left-leaning news-site, eldiario.es, to have fudged her Master’s degree. Not much happened as a result, since Ms Cifuentes, being a politician, had ‘immunity’, and anyways, her party – the Partido Popular – didn’t see it as anything of special importance.
In fact, she only resigned – four months later – when a far-right news site, OKDiario, published a copy of the Eroski video of the embarrassing theft by Cifuentes of the two pots of cream (RTVE video here).
Ms Cifuentes had obtained her Masters from the University of King Juan Carlos, and it gradually became clear that she was only one of a group of politicians (and, one can assume, captains of industry) who had earned themselves Masters without the formality of having properly studied for one.
The first name that came up was one of the leading candidates to take over the Partido Popular from Mariano Rajoy following his departure from politics (a motion of censure over the PP’s infamous corruption had seen the end of his presidency) Pablo Casado, who took over the leadership of the PP, and made light of his masters degree. Again, he had immunity, and his supporters frankly didn’t care what he might have written on his résumé.
Within a couple of months of the PSOE taking over the running of the country, the Minister of Health Carmen Montón was found to have also been a recipient of the URJC’s particular policy regarding titles. She quickly resigned.
Following this, Pablo Casado attempted to show that Pedro Sánchez also had a dodgy masters (from another, rather more reputable university), and when that proved false, that he had improperly copied some text – plagiarised - from another source in a book he had written.
Then it came out that the leader of Ciudadanos was changing his own profile regarding his titles. The only political leader who seemed safe from this witch-hunt being the fellow with the pony tail Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, because his other job is a university don.
The URJC, by now looking a bit tawdry, was then found to have sold titles to five hundred Italian engineers for the modest price of 11,000€ a pop.
Pablo Casado, the PP leader, was threatened with an interview with the Supreme Court, but – as the eldiario.es has suggested a shade waspishly – several of the judges there were placed by the last PP government. Casado, we hear, and to the relief of the Populares, has no case to answer. Nevertheless, and despite support from every newspaper from El País sideways, Casado is quickly slipping into a difficult position regarding his reputation.
We think he’ll be gone within the month.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

A Broken Ankle

We had a great holiday, a week off in the north of Spain - a small farm on the coast near Guernica followed by a couple of days staying with friends across the estuary from Santander. The long trip north meant a break in Aranda del Duero, famous for its mutton; and on the way south, we made it as far as La Carolina where there's a good hotel too.
Disaster struck within an hour of arriving back at my companion's stables. I was watering the horses and got in a tangle with the hose and a kind of DC current bearing wire which is meant to stop the critters scratching but in this case was used to give me a powerful, and watery, shock - punching me into the soft ground of horsepoop with such a push, that my ankle broke in several places.
We went to the local hospital El Toyo for X-Rays, and then on the main provincial hospital, Torrecárdenas, which in turn decided that since I live in Mojácar, I should be in Huercal Overa. So I went there in an ambulance. The next morning, I had my first ever operation (I have spent probably six months in various hospitals with Barbara over the first decade of the century, but always as the person who sleeps on the iron chair next to the bed).
Nine screws in my bones and a plate. The operation was carried out with a spinal injection and I was in a bed with a little windshield made of a sheet so I couldn't see the show.
After 24 hours in hospital, I was released to my companion's tender care and have been lying on her couch ever since.
This is fine, and no complaints from me. It's true that to get about, I need a wheelchair (no crutches for a month), and the chair in question is rather one of those used for old folk with four small wheels which, while taking me to the lavatory easily enough (I use my other foot for propulsion), it won't make the step up into the kitchen and its magical fridge.
So I read, and try and write (this is done, very slowly, on an Android). Bad Luck...? or Good Luck to have made it thus far...

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Democratic System

Democracy is a strange animal. People, sometimes hopelessly ill-informed, are asked to vote every now and again (but not too often). They could easily vote on every initiative with the power of the Internet, but that would clearly not work. For one thing, Capital Punishment would be back on the books in record time! So, the powers that be, in their wisdom, are careful to limit the slightly unpredictable act of voting, and putting at risk the jobs, livelihood and power of a deserving set of public servants (or ‘fatheads’, you choose). To do this, there is manipulation, fake news, ‘Russian’ bots, lies, distractions, calls to patriotism, racism and, in many cases, the withdrawal of the public’s most basic right – to participate.
From El Confidencial comes an essay on some of the tricks:
‘...in the 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine, a large number of voters went to the polls in the hope of overthrowing President Viktor Yanukovych. Upon arrival at the polling stations, opposition supporters were given ballots and pens to mark the appropriate box. They then went home with the peace of mind that they had done their democratic duty. But four minutes later, the ballots were blank. The pens they had been given had ink that disappeared, so their votes were null and void.
The Ukraine anecdote is not an isolated case. In the 1998 St. Petersburg mayoral elections, the government sought to neutralize an opposition figure whose popularity was worrying. His name was Oleg Sergeyev. To confuse the electorate, they found both a pensioner and a tram driver who were also called Oleg Sergeyev. There were no photographs on the ballots, so citizens did not know who the "real" one was. With so much of the vote split, all three Olegs ended up losing...’.
The Brexit case is also a tonic. First, we know that the Brexiteers spent vastly over budget, we also know of hugely wealthy people spending millions in support of the proposal, we are familiar with Cambridge Analytica and its tactics and we also aware of the political lies and manipulations (the NHS bus for example) during the campaign. Furthermore, we know that a large number of Britons, those who would most be affected by a successful Brexit, were either not allowed (‘the fifteen year rule’) or not able, due to various considerations, to vote at all.
In the USA, ex-felons are generally not allowed to vote, neither those currently in jail. An article in The New York Times quotes an estimate that ‘...6.1 million Americans had been barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws...’ adding that ‘...experts say that disparities in sentencing can make felony voting laws inherently discriminatory against minorities and people with low incomes...’. In the UK, prisoners can’t vote (The Guardian here), in the rest of the EU and certainly Spain, they generally can (El Mundo here).
In Catalonia, the *banned* ballot boxes and papers of last October’s independence referendum were smuggled in to the 2,315 polling stations by local people (El País here and BBC News here). That’s some dedication!
Things at a local level, where one might expect a level playing field, are just as bad.
In our local elections here in Spain (May 26th next year, put a note in your diary), besides Spaniards registered on the local padrón and over 18 years of age, most foreign nationals can vote and some can even appear on a political  papeleta, a list. Other foreign nationals can’t (and this may well include the British as April 1st is – appropriately – the first day of a new reality following on from the Brexit).  But even if you can vote in village life, the ‘Families’ will control how you and your cousins will cast your lot. The same candidates may buy votes (particularly from Eastern Europeans on the padrón) for a few hundred euros each and an overseen postal vote (Mojácar famously went from 1% in the national elections to over 18% in the 2011 local elections). Remember, in local elections, the voters generally know the candidates and rarely choose 'policy' or even party over friendship and accommodation. 
Lastly, and returning to the USA, Truthout has a title to worry about: ‘You Know Election Systems are in trouble when it takes an 11-year-old ten minutes to Change the Results’. Mind you, she had a laptop (and a lollipop).
Today, there are more elections than ever before, but, paradoxically, the world is becoming increasingly undemocratic. After all, there’s not much point in calling an election unless you expect to win, and now there are all sorts of fresh ways to help you.