Thursday, February 22, 2007

The big news today is that a female Spanish soldier, Idoia Rodríguez, was killed yesterday by a mine in Afghanistan. Two other soldiers were injured, not seriously. Private Rodríguez is the first Spanish woman soldier to be killed in action. We appreciate and are grateful for the sacrifice that the Spanish troops in Afghanistan are making and that the Spanish troops in Iraq made before Zap pulled them out. 82 Spanish troops have died in Afghanistan, most of them (62) in the May 2003 crash of a plane taking a group of them back home.

Here in Spain there isn't much talk about supporting the troops; I think a great many Spaniards, especially on the left, are rather scornful and disdainful of the military. It's not hard to understand why: the army was one of the foundations of the Franco regime. However, like the police, the Spanish army has changed a great deal in 30 years. These guys aren't oppressors or imperialists; they're used almost exclusively on peacekeeping missions. Scorning the military today shows a lack of ability to adjust to the present.

Romano Prodi's leftist government in Italy fell yesterday when the Communists (part of his coalition) abstained during a vote on the Italian mission in Afghanistan. I have no idea what's going to happen next. Italian politics make no sense whatsoever to me. The guess around here is that Prodi will try to form a new government, probably with a broader coalition and therefore weaker.

France's very own semi-Fascist, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who finished second in the last French presidential election, called the 9/11 bombings in New York "an incident," and added that the 3000 people who died that day "is what happens in a month in Iraq, and much less than in the bombings of Marseilles and Dresden during the Second World War." Of course, Le Pen would have preferred a Nazi victory. Certain elements in France are still complaining about the civilians who got killed in the fighting in Normandy in 1944. They can all kiss my ass.

The 3/11 trial continues. One of the infrastructure guys, Rachid Aglif, testified yesterday that he had cut the deal to trade several kilos of hashish for the dynamite used in the bombings at the McDonald's in Madrid suburb Carabanchel. He was very persnickety in his insistence that he didn't actually eat there. Four more of the infrastructure guys also testified, and confessed their involvement while trying to downplay it. They are all Moroccan small fry, more small-time criminals than Islamist ideologues.

We're number one! Gràcia leads all Barcelona neighborhoods in the number of squats we have, 53 out of the city's total of 293. In the first month and a half of 2007, the cops closed down 30 of them. Great work, guys.

Corporativism at work: The Barcelona bakers' guild is complaining that some places that sell bread are not part of the guild. There are serious restrictions in Spain on who can sell what; you can't just open up a store and sell pharmaceuticals, newspapers, lottery tickets, or cigarettes, because the number of points of sale is limited. If I want to open a newsstand--well, I can't. I have to buy a license from somebody who's already got one. Or if I've just graduated from pharmacy school and want to run my own pharmacy--same thing. And then Europeans wonder why their economic growth rates are slow compared to the US.

La Vanguardia interviews a local economist who says that Spaniards are the third slowest country in Europe in paying off their debts. He says many small businesses in Spain go under because their clients never pay them, and claims that only 23% of such debts go to court, where fewer than half of those are resolved, and only 35% of the money owed in the cases resolved is ever paid back. In the construction industry, clients take an average of 225 days to pay their bills. An industry that exists in Spain, and nowhere else I have ever seen, is costumed debt collectors. That is, if some guy owes you money and doesn't pay, you hire one of these companies and they send someone dressed up as a bullfighter or a bagpipe player to follow the debtor around wherever he goes and embarrass him in public. Quotation: "You can't expect judicial security in a country where those who govern are anti-system."

Get this. Since November 2005, one José María Vera Arjona has been arrested 55 times in Barcelona city alone for robbery, mugging, pickpocketing, etc. Vera Arjona just passes through the turnstile: he robs someone, they arrest him, throw him in jail, and then turn him loose. He leads the list of the top ten arrestees in the city. Seven of them are Bosnian women who have been arrested between 26 and 45 times each during that period. They operate exclusively on the tourist bus, the Bus Túristic, and rob only tourists.

The city of Barcelona has a major problem with crimes against tourists, as we have said many times, and it is extremely irresponsible in not warning all visitors explicitly upon arrival of the dangers they face. You are more likely to be pickpocketed or snatch-and-grabbed as a tourist in Barcelona than not.

The only significant police operations against those criminals who prey on tourists have been one in which the cops managed to jail five Romanian gypsy parents who trained their kids to steal, and another in which they arrested 15 members of a gang who slit car tires in order to rob the car occupants when they pulled over due to the flat. Half of this bunch is still in jail, but the other half is walking the streets.

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