Friday, January 23, 2004

Some sad news today from Iraq: Spanish Guardia Civil officer Gonzalo Perez Garcia was fatally wounded yesterday morning. He was shot in the head and is now in an irreversible coma. Perez Garcia was participating in the roundup of a terrorist gang in the town of Hamsa, along with Spanish military and Iraqi police units. He and two Iraqi policemen set off chasing a suspicious car, and the occupants of the car fired, hitting Perez Garcia and one of the Iraqi policemen. Perez Garcia was taken to an American hospital, where a group of neurosurgeons worked on him for six hours but were unable to extract the bullet. He has since been flown back to Spain. Thanks to Mr. Perez Garcia and to the Iraqi policeman for risking their own lives helping to protect others', and condolences to their families.

There has been a rash of international companies moving jobs out of Catalonia. Nissan, which employs 3000 people at its Zona Franca plant, has threatened to can 900 of them unless "competitiveness increases"--that is, unless the workers accept less pay. Lear, Philips, and Samsung have either closed or are going to close their plants here. The reasons are obvious: Labor costs are lower in Eastern Europe, Morocco, and Asia. A lot lower. If all you need are semi-skilled workers, it doesn't make sense to pay First World wages for work a Third World citizen with little training or education (and low pay demands) can do. This ought to be a wakeup call to Catalonia: if we want to keep our GDP per capita above the EU average, we're going to have to get good and proficient at doing high-skill, highly-paid work, because they ain't gonna pay us for doing low-skill, highly-paid work no more.

So here's the really bad news: Nokia, the high-tech mobile-phone company, is closing down its R&D center in Prat de Llobregat. The center at one time employed 60 people doing high-skill, highly-paid work. Not a good sign.

Political stuff: PP bigwig Francisco Alvarez-Cascos has announced that he is retiring from politics. He had been a close political ally of Jose Maria Aznar for many years; he has been in the Congress of Deputies since 1986, was Aznar's secretary-general of the PP until 1996, was first vice-prime minister from 1996 to 2000, and was Minister for Economic Development from 2000 to now.

Cascos was Aznar's attack dog; he was the guy who did the unpleasant work of keeping the party in line while denouncing the Socialists at every opportunity. He also took the heat when the Administration was in trouble; this made him easily the most unpopular PP leader.

Well, now that Aznar is going and Mariano Rajoy is in charge of the party, the new broom is sweeping clean and Cascos saw his destiny in the dustpan, so he did the honorable thing and announced his retirement. It doesn't help matters any that Cascos has an agitated love life: he dumped wife #1 in 1994 (with whom he had four kids) for wife #2, whom he married in 1996 (she was half his age; he's 57 now. They produced two kids). The 1996 wedding was a big event, with Aznar present and everything. Anyway, though, he's now divorcing wife #2 for future wife #3, with whom he has appeared on public occasions.

Now, the PP is pretty tolerant at the same time that it's pretty socially conservative. That is, if you have a mistress on the side, or you've been divorced, or have an illegitimate child, or you're, uh, single and active, they'll accept it as part of human frailty, though they do demand that you be discreet about it. But if you make a big deal out of your irregular personal life, and it gets in the gossip magazines and on trash TV, that's bad news for your future as a member of the PP. The combination of Cascos's personal unpopularity, his sexual indiscretions, and Rajoy's wanting to put in his own men, put an end to his political career.

Hilarious news. Local ex-politician-gadfly Pilar Rahola, who is not too bad looking, and ex-Madrid politician-huge fat broad Cristina Almeida have both turned down 60,000 euros a week to appear on "Big Brother VIP", a version of the well-known reality show for allegedly famous people. They've got a list of the participants signed up so far; the only ones I've ever heard of are atrocious Latin American country singer Coyote Dax and megaslut trash TV standby Marlene "Da Ho" Mourreau.

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