Friday, December 31, 2004

WELL, THE DAY IS ENDING, and before I go I want to wish all readers of Barcepundit a very


ZAPATERO'S FIRST BIG, I mean really big test is already here:
The Basque Parliament approved a measure on Thursday that says the Basque region has the right to secede from Spain, a move analysts described as the most serious threat to national unity since the establishment of democracy here nearly 30 years ago.

The measure, approved by a vote of 39 to 35, is part of a complex plan that calls for an overhaul of the region's relationship with the central government in Madrid.

"We express our will to form a new political pact," the plan says, "that grows from a new model for relations with the Spanish state based on freedom of association."

Before the vote, which was held in the Basque capital, Vitoria, Juan José Ibarretxe, the president of the Basque region and the main author of the plan, said, "We are not proposing a project for breaking away from Spain, but we are formalizing a project for friendly coexistence between the Basque region and Spain.

"The Basque country is not a subordinate part of the Spanish state," he added. "The only way there will be a shared relationship with the state is if we decide there will be one."

Political analysts said that the vote gave momentum to the separatist movement in the Basque region, and presented the central government with the task of confronting the movement without inflaming it.

"This is the clearest push for independence that the Basque country has made," said Antonio Caño, a senior editor at the newspaper El País. "It is a very clear challenge to the unity of Spain. I'd say it places the country in its biggest crisis of unity since democracy began here."

[...] The plan now moves to the national Parliament, where it will surely be rejected, analysts said [both the Socialist party in government and the Popular Party -the main one in the opposition- reject it -- F.A.]. But supporters of the plan, led by Mr. Ibarretxe, said a defeat would not stop them from submitting it to a popular referendum in the Basque region next year. The central government has said such a referendum is illegal.
Not only illegal, it would be so undemocratic that it wouldn't even pass UN standards for free elections (and that's saying much!). Look guys, I believe people have a right to self-organize the way they want to, as long as they follow the law. And as long as any vote about any proposal is truly free. But you cannot call free an election about an issue whose opponents must have bodyguards 24/7 because they can be gunned down any minute as it has happened is several hundred times (and I mean all opponents with even minor political roles; for example, a councilwoman for the Socialist party who is a janitor in the night shift must work accompanied by armed bodyguards!). Or when people are afraid to speak their minds in public, because if they express any 'not 100% Basque nationalist' idea, some masked guys can go to your home at night and throw in a firebomb. There's several thousand people who have had to move to other parts of Spain in recent years because they simply couldn't resist any longer (wouldn't that fall under the definition of ethnic cleansing?)

But (there's always one 'but' eh?) well have to see how much Zapatero's government will oppose the Basque unilateral independence plan supported by the threat of ETA violence:
Several papers speculated that Ibarretxe could press ahead with a referendum in the Basque country regardless of the national parliament's vote. The PP had threatened to throw him in jail if he did so, but the Socialists have opted for a less confrontational approach that may limit their options.

Furthermore, the Socialists depend on support from small regional parties for their parliamentary majority -- and some of those small parties have more than a little sympathy with Ibarretxe's agenda.
Oh, and just as and end note: don't buy the crap about 'moderate nationalist' as several of the linked items define Ibarretxe and his party. True, they don't use guns or kill people, but they masterfully play a good cop, bad cop routine; while Ibarretxe and his ilk talk relatively nice, the radicals and ETA do the dirty job. And both sides profess an extreme nationalism based in ethnicist principles, celebrating the 'father' of the Basque Homeland, Sabino Arana. If you want to learn about the ideology, just read this post by John Chappell at Europundits, commenting some texts by English journalist John Hooper about the philosophical basis of Basque nationalism ("It's closer to Fascism than you might think"), and with some 'unvaluable' translations of Arana's doctrine. Be sure you don't miss it.

UPDATE. Some minor editing to fix a few typos, but I'm sure there's still a few: as I say on the blog's heading: "My English is not perfect? Well, it's not my mother tongue, so sue me!"

LET'S SEE what the European Union has to say about this; after all, there's free movement of people between its country members, and once immigants are legally in one country they are free to move to any of the others:
Spain approved new guidelines on immigration on Thursday, including a partial amnesty aimed at giving papers to some of the 800,000 illegal immigrants estimated to be living in the country.

"(The new regulations) will allow us to manage our immigration more rationally in line with a new vision regarding this phenomenon, no longer considered a problem but an opportunity and a challenge," Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, deputy prime minister, told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting.

The regulations have been drawn up on the basis of a broad consensus following consultations with professional associations, unions and immigrant organizations as well as political parties.
Well, Reuters has been drinking Zapatero's Kool-Aid; it's simply not true that all these associations and organizations agree with the measuren (for example, the Popular Party, representing 10 million votes, that is, almost half the electorate). It doesn't have anything to do with xenophobia or being anti-immigrant, far from it. It's just that some people think that it's not wise to set up a system that will become a real magnet for immigration that will spread all over Europe (Spain is the aready the main gateway for EU's immigration), while rewarding people who have been breaking immigration laws.

SPAIN APPROVES same-sex marriage:
Spain’s Socialist government today approved a bill to legalise same-sex marriages, putting the predominantly Roman Catholic country on course to become only the third country to recognise gay marriages.

The bill was approved at a Cabinet meeting and is expected to be presented to Parliament in February for debate.

“The right to marry is a right for everyone, without distinction. It cannot be understood as a privilege,” Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a press conference after the Cabinet meeting. “The recognition of homosexuals’ rights eradicates an unjustified discrimination.”

Under the bill homosexuals will be allowed to adopt children and couples of the same sex will be able to inherit from one another as well as receive retirement benefits from their working spouses in the same way in which heterosexual married couples do now.
My personal opinion on the issue: I'm not against regulating some effects, quite a few if you will, for homosexual couples. But I think that marriage as an institution is modeled after a rationale that doesn't apply to homosexual couples. No, I'm not objecting to gay marriage on religious grounds, since I'm an atheist. I happen to agree 100% with the great Thomas Sowell on this topic. It is not a religious, but a 'civilizational' issue.

I also object to the specific way in which the bill has been approved in Spain; with no bipartisanship appeal, done unilaterally and in a hurry, with no wide public debate and at the same time demonizing anyone who dares to suggest any objection, even a mild one, as troglodytes (at least in other countries there's an intelligent debate going on, even within the left, about the logic of gay marriage) and without submitting the project to the Council of State, a high deliberative body which has to make a report on all major legislation, and which had unoficially pointed out -they weren't officially asked- that the current Spanish constitution as is only contemplates that marriage is between a man and a woman. Therefore, they claimed, the Constitution should be ammended before the approval of same-sex marriage.

But, alas, we're getting used to this by now: Zapatero always brags about being the champion of tolerance, of listening to others, and of the beauty of dialogue, but when it's the moment to act, he simply does whatever he wants without listening at all.

Andrew Carnegie famously said: "As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do." So true.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

EIGHT BILLION EUROS is what the terrorist group ETA has costed the Spanish economy over the last ten years:
Attacks by armed Basque separatists Eta have cost the Spanish economy almost 8bn euros (£5.6bn) over the last decade, a government report says.

The report was commissioned by senior anti-terror Judge Baltasar Garzon.

As well as the physical damage caused by Eta's violent campaign, the report includes costs generated by increased security and compensation payments.

It also includes pensions for bereaved families, bodyguard fees, and extra prison space for detained Eta members.
But's that the direct costs; there's more:
The report - published by the daily El Pais - says the real cost to Spain's economy is far greater than the published figures, because the country suffers from reduced levels of private investment as a result of the Eta threat.

Friday, December 24, 2004

I'LL BE AROUND THESE DAYS, but I'll mainly concentrate in enjoying the celebrations and eating lots of food, and drinking moderate (but not mince) amounts of assorted beverages. It's going to be one big meal after the other, with different groups of people each (family, other relatives, friends), starting this evening in which we celebrate the big Christmas eve dinner with all my extended family at my parents' place.

Maybe I'll post later today and tomorrow, maybe I won't, but just in case I'd like to wish all readers of Barcepundit a very merry Christmas. No matter what faith one follows (or even if one doesn't follow any faith at all, like me, though I respect the religious beliefs; I'd describe myself like Oriana Fallaci does, as a "Christian atheist"), Christmas somehow trascends faith and can be enjoyed, if only as an opportunity of spending some time with people you don't see everyday and share some good spirits (no, I'm not talking about liquor now, I'm talking about real good spirits!)

So, merry Christmas, everybody!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

THE MARCH 11 parliamentary commission has ended the testimony phase and has begun to compile its report. The Popular party had asked for more investigations, but the ruling Socialist party (in the opposition at the time of the attacks) has blocked any new appearances. It makes one wonder why, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, Reuters has a surprisingly interesting article explaining why the commission has poisoned the political waters of the country while failing to shed any significant light on the investigations:
Disillusionment among ordinary Spaniards has grown as Spain's two main parties have traded accusations of trying to exploit the bombings, which killed 191 people, at elections three days later which swept the Socialists to power.

Even by Spanish standards, the commission has helped drag politics to new depths of bitterness by giving politicians the floor to trade barbs and blame while failing to come to any conclusions over the attacks.

The opposition conservatives now predict the Socialists' minority government will soon fall.

"The commission has dragged out the mood of the (March 14) elections, which were very bitter, and it has raised political tensions instead of helping to understand what took place," said Juan Diez, head of Madrid-based analysts ASEP.

"People are seeing politicians shouting at one another and not listening," said Diez. ""There is a lack of manners, respect and political culture ... Citizens should not see a political debate being carried out like a cheap gossip show."

Police commanders, intelligence chiefs and the current and previous prime ministers were among a parade of witnesses called before the commission, which began its hearings in June. A High Court judge has led a separate criminal investigation.


Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero accused the previous government of "massive deceit" for initially blaming Basque separatist guerrilla group ETA despite clear signs Islamic militants planned the attacks in retaliation for Spain's role in the Iraq war.

Former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who stepped down at March's polls, accused the Socialists of exploiting the attacks to snatch a shock victory while he tried to catch the bombers.
The article is not bad, as I said, but it still leaves out several other significant reasons why quite a few people are unhappy at how the probe was carried. For example that one key witness, while he denied under oath having spoken with any of the members of the commission before his testimony, had in fact been speaking the day before he went on stage with one of the commissioners for the Socialist party; or that the new anti-terrorist chief (a young police officer of a local precinct who was promoted to the post by Zapatero even though he didn't have any experience on terrorism issues) spent the day before his appearance at the commission in the Socialist party's HQ preparing his testimony; or the coverup of several high profile law enforcement officers who denied knowing anything about the explosives trade between mine workers and the Islamist terrorists or who failed to disclose at the commission several warnings from informants, but several wiretaps revealed afterwards showed that they knew about everything and apparently did nothing (and the fact that these officers had ties to the death squads and dirty war against ETA during the previous Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez between 1982 and 1996 makes all of this much more troubling). Or the alleged suicide in very strange circumstances of one of these informants' girlfriend, who drowned herself in the sea while being watched for 45 minutes by several police officers who didn't do anything to stop her. The informant is now under protection by several bodyguards.

Not only are there these weird developments, but the most troubling thing is that the Zapatero government and his parliamentary allies are refusing to investigate any further and therefore voting to end the bombings probe.

No wonder a significant part of the Spanish population is unhappy at how the commission went.

Meanwhile, more and more arrests of suspected Islamic terrorists are taking place, and Zapatero has raised the official alert status for the Christmas (incidentally, you all should have heard what people were saying each time Bush did the same: "He's exploiting the fear of the Americans!" and so on). In his unique approach, ZP announced the exact day and time when the heightened alert will end (I guess terrorists will only have to wait to the next day after that), and has irked the police forces (link in Spanish) because he publicly announced the special security plan before telling them about it and what would the special measures would be.

I guess you could call that 'exploting the fear of the population' if it had been done by evil Bu$hitler.

But then again, it may have something to do with this risk assessment (pdf file in French; a short summary in English here) by Bussels' European Strategic Intelligence & Security Center.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

AT A HUMAN LEVEL, the news that the two French journalists kidnapped in Iraq were released is good news. It remains to be seen, if some bribe was paid, what the effects in French foreign policy -in all countries' foreign policy, for that matter- will be.

AN IMAM in Fuengirola, Spain, was sentenced after he wrote a book instructing how to beat one's wife without leaving marks. In jail for a few weeks, has been released on parole by a Spanish judge under the condition that he takes a course about the Spanish Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As my buddies at HispaLibertas say, I hope the course teacher is an ultrasexy woman in bondage gear (leather vest, whip and all) and tells the imam: "See? It is my right to be like this, y'know".

Deputy Prime Minister in Zapatero's cabinet (more about her here) is incensed. And somehow I can understand; but, shouldn't she at least pretend a little she believes in the separation of powers?

THE POLITICAL SITUATION in the Basque country in Northern Spain is heating up:
As the European Union expands its borders, one of its largest member states, Spain, may be beginning to unravel.

Under the 1978 constitution, Spain's 17 autonomous communities enjoy more powers of self-government than anywhere in Europe. The Basque Autonomous Community of Euskadi has the greatest autonomy, with its own premier, legislature, police force and Supreme Court and control over housing, education, health, social services and some taxation.

And yet the separatist impulse remains high.

On Monday, the Basque regional parliament's Institutional Commission approved a plan for even greater autonomy, which some analysts believe may lead to the Basque country's independence from Spain.

The plan still has to be passed by the Basque Parliament on December 30. However, the surprise decision by Sozialista Abertzaleak, widely acknowledged as the political wing of the militant separatist group ETA, to abstain from voting means the proposal's passage is all but certain.

As a result, an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis now looms.

The central pillar of the proposal, known as the Ibarretxe Plan after Basque Premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe, is a Basque Community "freely associated" with Spain on the basis of "shared sovereignty". As well as introducing joint Spanish and Basque citizenship, the plan provides for an independent Basque judiciary, diplomatic representation abroad, the right to call referendums on issues of self-determination and almost complete administrative control over the Basque country.

Critics of the plan condemn the Basque Government for adopting by stealth ETA's aims of independence. Indeed, Sozialista Abertzaleak leader Arnaldo Otegi has claimed that the "best bits of the plan are those that have been copied from us".

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

LAST OF ARTHUR CHRENKOFF'S roundup of good news from Iraq for 2004:
The newest member of the international democratic leaders club, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, recently had some words of encouragement and advice for the Iraqi people on their hard road to a better future: "They must go to polls. They must take this opportunity, elect their people to parliament, and have a government of their own, and have peace... The major lesson in Afghanistan was that the Afghan people wanted change, from the tyranny of terrorism. The Iraqi people also will gain nothing if they allow these people to come from outside and destroy their lives."

We will know soon enough to what extent the Iraqis as a whole have listened to this advice, but as of six weeks from the poll the indications are that the "silent majority" is keen for the election to mark a clean break from the past and a beginning of a new Iraq. It's not just in the political sphere that the Iraqis, with the assistance of the Coalition forces, governments and organizations, are trying to make progress. In the economy, reconstruction, infrastructure, health and education, cultural life and security, work continues everyday, often under dangerous and difficult circumstances and just as often considered not newsworthy enough to compete with the insurgency and the growing pains of a country just starting to lift itself up after three decades spent under the boot of a bloodthirsty megalomaniac. Below are some of these stories of the past two weeks.
Worth every minute you spend reading it. And don't worry, Arthur will be continuing his superb series next year!

EFE IS THE government owned news agency (yes, we hace such thing here in Spain), and it shows that they're working for Zapatero at the moment:
'Financial irregularities' claim dogs Aznar

20 December 2004

MADRID- The Labour Ministry of the former conservative Popular Party government of Jose Maria Aznar has been accused of financial irregularities, it was reported.

According to a draft report from the Auditing Court, several possible cases of financial wrong-doing have been discovered in the advertising campaigns contracted by the Labour Ministry under the Popular Party's Eduardo Zaplana from 2002 to 2004, the left-leaning Spanish daily El Pais reported.

The advertising budget for the ministry was EUR 42.8 million during the PP's last term in office.
Nowhere in the report is mentioned the fact that the Auditing Court released a statement after El Pais made the allegation debunking it (links in Spanish).

Monday, December 20, 2004

NOTHING TO WORRY about ETA anymore, according to the New York Times. Yeah, right:
The series of bombings in Spanish cities this month by the Basque militant group ETA reflects a major shift in the trajectory of an organization that has terrorized Spanish society for more than 30 years, Spanish government officials say.

Rather than signaling newfound strength, they say, the bombings indicate desperation from a group that is slipping into its death throes.

"ETA is in its terminal phase," said Fernando Reinares, the senior antiterrorism adviser at the Interior Ministry. "We know that terminal phases often produce rivalries and fragmentation that can lead to spectacular attacks."
Like 9/11, which was carried by the weak al-Qaeda, you mean? By the way, Reinares, if you're right then you're giving one more reason why suspecting that it was ETA who did the March 11 attacks was logical in the immediate aftermath. A mistake? Maybe. But not a lie, as your boss Zapatero is saying. In fact, it was so logical that Zapatero, and several political figures (i.e. the leader of the Basque country region) were on TV / radio before any of Aznar's men denouncing ETA for the massacre. No matter how they rewrite history, many others, including all the opposition parties, went in the open blaming ETA before Aznar, Acebes, or any other official from his government.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

QUITE A FEW GUYS all over the world (in Spain too) are going to have cold sweat when they hear that Tariq Aziz, the friendly face of Saddam's regime, is singing:
David Kay — a former U.S. adviser in Iraq — spent months questioning Aziz and others. He says Aziz quickly turned on Saddam and could testify at any trial.

"He talks about direct orders to murder, to assassinate, to kill," says Kay.

NBC News has learned U.N. investigators probing corruption in the U.N. oil for food program were scheduled to question Aziz last week. That session was delayed for security reasons.

The U.N. investigation — led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker — is looking into Saddam's alleged diversion of oil money that was supposed to go for food to U.N. officials and politicians in key countries.

U.S. officials say Aziz already has implicated the French and others, claiming payoffs were made with the understanding that recipients would support Iraq on key matters before the U.N.

"He pointed to specific individuals in Russia and France, in the United States — that received favorable treatment," says David Kay.
Can't wait.

Friday, December 17, 2004

A GREAT, superb, magnificent article by Victor Davis Hanson on what the left has to do to regain its lost credibility:
There is much talk of post-election reorganization and rethinking among demoralized liberals, especially in matters of foreign policy. They could start by accepting that the demise of many of their cherished beliefs and institutions was not the fault of others. More often, the problems are fundamental flaws in their own thinking — such as the ends of good intentions justifying the means of expediency and untruth, and forced equality being a higher moral good than individual liberty and freedom. Whether we call such notions “political correctness” or “progressivism,” the practice of privileging race, class, and gender over basic ethical considerations has earned the moralists of the Left not merely hypocrisy, but virtual incoherence.

Democratic leaders are never going to be trusted in matters of foreign policy unless they can convince Americans that they once more believe in American exceptionalism and are the proper co-custodians of values such as freedom and individual liberty. If in the 1950s rightists were criticized as cynical Cold Warriors who never met a right-wing thug they wouldn’t support, as long as he mouthed a few anti-Soviet platitudes, then in the last two decades almost any thug from Latin America to the Middle East who professed concern for “the people” — from Castro and the Noriega Brothers to Yasser Arafat and the Iranian mullahs — was likely to earn a pass from the American and European cultural elite and media. To regain credibility, the Left must start to apply the same standard of moral outrage to a number of its favorite causes that it does to the United States government, the corporations, and the Christian Right. Here are a few places to start.
It's about US politics, but many of the things he writes are perfectly suitable to the European left. Read it all.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

THE IRAQI NEWSPAPER AlSabah published a very revealing poll from 5000 citizens of Baghdad and surrounding areas about their opinion on the forthcoming Jan. 30 election:
What will you base your vote on?

Political agenda----------------------------65%
Factional origin----------------------------14%
Party Affiliation---------------------------- 4%
National Background----------------------12%
Other reasons--------------------------------5%

Do you support dialog with the deposed Baathists?

Do not know----------------------------------1%

Do you support the postponing the election?

Do not know---------------------------------2%

Do you think the elections will take place as scheduled?

Do not know---------------------------------4%

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"WE HAVE BECOME political pawns", said the spokeswoman of the Association of Victims of March 11 during her emotional testimony before the parliamentary commission investigating the attacks:
A victim of the Madrid train bombings called today for a new commission to investigate the terrorist attack and urged politicians in tearful testimony not to use the victims as political pawns.

Pilar Manjon, the spokeswoman of the Association of Victims of March 11, described the suffering of victims and their families in the nine months since the bombings blamed on Islamic terrorists killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800.

“For you each of the killing is a simple figure, for us they are human beings. For us they have names and surnames,” said Manjon, dressed in black. Her voice occasionally cracked with emotion as she delivered her testimony to the parliamentary commission investigating the bombings.

“Anyone of us could have travelled in those trains, anyone of us could have died in some of the scenes of the horror,” said Manjon, who lost a 20-year-old son in the attacks.

She asked politicians not to use the victims for political purposes, referring to the flurry of allegations and counter-allegations between Spain’s political parties following the March 11 attack.

“Victims don’t understand about politics and we demand you not to use us, not to manipulate us,” she said. “You have turned us into pawns of a political game,” she added.

[...] Manjon called for the creation of a new commission of independent investigators, without political background, to find out more about what happened before the attack, including why police apparently didn’t share and investigate tips from informants that might have prevented the bombings.
She gave a quite moving speech which was actually a little surprising, since she had been very partisan in the past. During Aznar's testimony a couple of weeks ago, she demonstrated with some people in front of the Parliament building in which it was taking place with her hands painted in red and accusing former prime minister of being responsible for the attacks. She was also quoted in the media saying "of course Aznar's people are not worried about this, because it was workers and not his supporters riding these trains; they usually go to work driving their Audis". Of couse, sometimes pain makes people say things over the board; the shameful thing is that the biased media exploited her, and other victims, pain.

And she's right about the fact that the commission was tainted because of its politization. It should have been modeled much similarly to the 9/11 commission in the US, but it wasn't. As I wrote in the past,
the Madrid probe is taking place too soon after the atrocities, while there's still a parallel police and judicial investigation about its criminal aspects going on. And this invites for pure political manoevering [...]

Another reason why the 9-11 and the 3-11 are so different is that, in the former, the commissioners were especially appointed according to their previous experience and knowledge in anti-terrorism and intelligence affairs. Yes, you could also notice a political side of it, but it was a hundred times better, and more professional, than seeing 'regular' congressmen chosen in the same proportion than the parliament composition; chosen only because of the party they belong to, regardless of the fact that most of them don't have a clue of what intelligence or law enforcement work really means. You could see in their questioning: they were clearly speaking of something they rushed to learn in a couple of reports and books just to get ready for the probe.

THE ARAB WORLD is going to revolt in the coming weeks, Austin Bay writes. But rest easy, it's not that "eruption of the Arab street" predicted so many times by modern-day Cassandras trying to warn against any initiative. It's something much more benign (via Glenn Reynolds):
Mark it on your calendar: Next month, the Arab Middle East will revolt.

However, generals with tanks and terrorists with fatwas won't be leading the revolution. This time, Arab moderates and liberal reformers -- the Middle East's genuine rebels -- are the insurgent vanguard.

Put a circle around Jan. 9. That's the day Palestinians go to the polls to elect a president. In the desperate, divided and terrorized Palestinian statelet, electoral politics (ballots) are replacing pistol politics (bullets). That is a revolution -- a worldview-shattering, history-creating revolution.

Draw another circle around Jan. 30. That's Iraq's first election day. Underline the two weeks prior to Jan. 30. That will be a savage fortnight in which terror campaigns and political campaigns collide. Democratic candidates will be assassinated and polling stations will be blown to bits, as Saddamite and Al Qaeda reactionaries -- the Middle East's ancien regime of tyrant and terrorist -- attempt to force an oppressed people to submit one more time to the yoke of fear.

But they are going to fail.
And he explains why.

But, alas, personally I was bit depressed by the last paragraph:
A successful Iraqi election following the Palestinian vote would make it a six-pack of electoral defeats for the twin evils of tyrant and terrorist. The other four? Australia returned pro-war-on-terror Prime Minister John Howard to power. In Afghanistan, voters braved Taliban terror to elect a president. In the United States, Bush won on the family value of protecting and projecting liberty. And people power thwarted thug attempts to steal Ukraine's presidential election, with a new vote set for Dec. 26.
The reason? Think which country couldn't be included in this list of good signs.


UPDATE. A related editorial from the Washington Post.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

YOU ALL KNEW that the great Tim Blair has a new blog address, didn't you? Well, if you didn't, go pay him a visit, and don't forget to update your bookmarks and blogrolls!

ZAPATERO'S TESTIMONY before the March 11 commission lasted for 15 hours. Of course, many of them were spent because ZP suddenly decided to read in full some reports prepared for him that he had refused to hand to the commissioners before. 'In full' means, for example, including license plate numbers of all cars involved. He accused the former Aznar administration of deceiving the public, and did so in very blunt terms; he said that at the early afternoon of March 11, the day of the attacks, police had dropped the ETA clues because they thought that Islamic terrorists were the culprits. So, according to Zapatero, the fact that Aznar and his ministers said they were investigating both ETA and Islamists was a lie because the police was actually investigating the second possibility.

Just one problem with that: it goes clearly against what each and every chief investigator had said at the same commission some months ago; they insisted that when they found the first clues pointing to Islamic terrorists, they opened a second line of investigation without dropping the ETA line until late Saturday evening. At that time Angel Acebes, Interior minister in Aznar's cabinet, had been in several press conferences televised across the country mentioning the Islamic clues.

The weirdest accusation, which got quite a big echo in the international MSM, is that all the computers in Aznar's offices had been erased prior to the handover. Well, duh. As longs as the documents in print format are there, is it really necessary that the computers, with some private information, phone numbers, drafts of speeches, etc, is given to the successor? Of course not; at least it's not a legal obligation. And this is why this happened just the same when Aznar took over in 1996 from Socialist Felipe Gonzalez.

Moreover, if it's true that there was not "a single document", as Zapatero said yesterday, why did he wait for NINE MONTHS to denounce it? Why himself, and all ministers in the cabinet, had praised in unequivocal terms when the handover took place back in April, that it had been impeccable, and thanked their predecessors in public?

Zapatero was clearly trying to score a political goal.

THANKS. I simply cannot express my gratitude to all of you who voted for this blog in the 2004 Weblog Awards and pushed it to the... second!! position on the Best European (non-UK) Blog category. Simply being there feels like a victory, and losing only to the magnificent Dissident Frogman is like not loosing at all.

So, again, thanks for your votes and your visits; I hope you'll all be coming back here often. And tell your friends to come, too!

Monday, December 13, 2004

NEW CHAPTER of Arthur Chrenkoff's Good News from Afghanistan series; by email, Arthur writes,
It's early days yet, but Afghanistan looks like a success story of President Bush's foreign policy - not surprisingly then, the media has "moved on" to other quagmires and disaster areas. Afghanistan's just not all that important anymore. Let all of us in the West, leading safe and comfortable lives which allow us to take so much for granted, don't disparage the little things that are today taking place on the other side of the world; a song that can now be sung, a girl who can go to school, a joke that can be told, a country road being built - or indeed a rose smelled again. These things may not sound like much to us, but for the people of Afghanistan they are all small steps leading them towards a better life and a normal future.
You can find the whole thing here, at OpinionJournal.

ZAPATERO is appearing today at the parliamentary commission investigating the March 11 bomb attacks:
The March 11 atrocity — which struck three days before a general election — helped catapult Zapatero, an underdog Socialist, into office, ousting a pro-U.S. conservative party that had led in all the public opinion polls.

[...] Aznar’s conservative Popular Party (PP) will have the chance to grill Zapatero about the dramatic days between March 11 and March 14, when the PP was erroneously blaming the attacks on the Basque separatist group ETA.

PP politicians privately say they will question Zapatero about whether his Socialist Party played any role in the illegal demonstrations outside its offices that sprang up on election eve and contributed to the defeat of PP candidate Mariano Rajoy.

Angry crowds accused the PP government of lying about who was responsible for the attacks for political gain, a charge denied by Aznar and others who say they took their leads from police.

Zapatero also could face questions about who kept him informed about the investigation before the vote to see whether he was the source of press leaks, some of them wildly off the mark — that undermined the credibility of the outgoing Aznar government.
As with Aznar's testimony a couple of weeks ago, I have the TV on in the background, but it's just too much information to do a proper live blogging. So I'll do what I did, which is to update this post with relevant information in English (from the MSM and blogs), with some comments of mine in between if appropriate. The session has been going on for more than 5 hours already, and it's going to be a long one, maybe more than the 11 hours that Aznar was in the commission: it's 2 rounds by each party representative (it's 8 parties, I think), and now we're just in the middle of the questioning by the second party in the first round. Of course, it's been long because the first was the commissioner for Aznar's PP, but the others aren't expected to take that much time.

Anyway, watch this space for updates.

UPDATE. Robert Duncan wants to believe Zapatero at the commission saying that there was no connection between ETA and al-Qaeda on March 11, but he asks, what about the photo?

As I wrote before, the possibility that it was a joint operation is real, but not too likely. But it makes you wonder when the Zapatero administration and its apologists, including the friendly media, are saying that there's almost a metaphisical impossibility that a secular ETA might want to collaborate with religious fanatics. Not for 11-M, but absolutely altogether. Which is simply stupid, for many spreading the myth do know about this; namely judge Garzón. Just go and see this other picture. And regarding March 11, there may not be conclusive evidence, but there are some very serious questions (many of them at Robert's post). And it simply makes you wonder why the current government refuses to investigate.

I personally think that if ETA had any role at all it was not in the bombings themselves but in the creation of an atmosphere in which, if any attack would take place, the government would immediately think of ETA. Sort of a disinformation campaign to dupe the government, knowing (from the contacts in prisons? from the jamboree in Tehran on January 2004, like every January?) that there was going to be a real attack by Islamists. Hence the van full of explosives intercepted a couple of weeks before March 11 (when he was located by the police, the driver shouted "please, don't do anything, I surrender, I'm from ETA" too soon, almost before the first cop "good evening"; and he was carrying a map with a big red circle conspicuously surrounding the exact same area where the bombs where eventually placed on the fateful day that the bombings took place).

And then there also that secret meeting by Carod-Rovira, the Catalan indendentist politician, which led to ETA declaring a truce for Catalonia only which sparked a political furore (see this post for background). Contrary to what many in Aznar's party were saying, I don't believe that Carod went to the meeting with ETA to negotiate that truce. To be sure, it was plausible, since Carod had publicly asked ETA in an open letter in the past to kill wherever they wanted in the rest of Spain if they had a gripe, but just not in Catalonia, because according to him Catalans have the same aspirations for independence as Basques (his words, not mine). But I simply don't think this was the case now; Carod says he didn't go to meet ETA to negotiate a truce (among other reasons, because he has no attibutions for Spain's homeland security). He's refused to tell what did they talk about, and this is why many people don't believe him, but I do. I simply believe he was duped into going for a meeting that someone close to ETA promptly leaked to the media and which, together with the partial truce, would increase the political pressure many notches. And at the same time it would increase the perception that an attack by ETA before the elections (as they've done several times in the past) was likely because, what's the best way of materializing a partial truce for a part of Spain's territory?

You guessed it: attacking outside that portion of the territory.

ONLY A FALSE ALARM, thankfully:
A bomb threat has forced authorities to evacuate about 75,000 spectators from Madrid's Bernabeu stadium during a match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad.

The match was abandoned with two minutes left to play. No bomb was found.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

I HOPE "second-hand" doesn't mean they have been already fired before...:
Spain has agreed to acquire a second-hand battery of U.S.-made Patriot missiles to boost its defenses, the government said Sunday.

Spain's Socialist government will buy the weapons from Germany, fulfilling an accord undertaken by its conservative predecessor, according to a statement from Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's office.

The purchase was approved at a Cabinet meeting on Friday but not widely reported until Sunday.

THE MURDER OF THEO VAN GOGH spells the beginning of the Basqueization of Europe, writes Juan Hervada; he has a grim forecast and, alas, I agree.

Jihadists have realized what happens when they attack Big Satan; they get real wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (so far). And they know what they get when they attack Little Satan, that is, Europe: appeasement all over the place, and yes to anything they want. So, why not going for more?

It's going to be a shaky decade, people.

Friday, December 10, 2004

JOHN ROSENTHAL from Transatlantic Intelligencer, emails about the situation in Ukraine:
The simple picture one has in the MSM of nasty Kremlinites vs "pro-Western" "liberals" just does not hold up to scrutiny and I'm afraid much of the blogosphere has also been taken in on this one. So, without really wanting to take any side, I'm trying to get some information out that at least complicates matters.
And John is doing an impressive job over at his weblog; I encourage you all to read each post which have a much richer insight and deeper perspective that anything coming from the MSM (why should I be surprised that a good blogger is beating old media?)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

THE FRENCH AND SPANISH position towards Annan and the Oil For Food scandal (remember: Chirac, Zapatero and Annan, The Three Amigos!) can be understood, Juan Hervada writes:
Saddam Hussein paid hundreds of millions in bribes to scores of politicians, journalists and diplomats throughout Europe and at the UN. A sizable share of the bribes went to France and Spain.

In France, the lion’s share of the backhanders went to some Mr. Chirac’s political friends. It is true that his ethical standards regarding public money are known to be less than stringent and only executive immunity is keeping him out of court (and out of jail!) for a string of sleazy scandals including distributing luxury flats in the best of Paris for friends and family for under $100 in rent. Some people have also wondered why the money from the oil-for-food program was systematically entrusted to French banks.

In Spain, the Iraqi regime financed the anti-war movement through a Committee for Solidarity with the Arab Cause, that funneled millions into the pockets of Spanish politicians, journalists and artists. The Havana educated general secretary of the communist party, Gaspar Llamazares was the chairman of the committee, monitored by a former Jordanian ambassador to Iraq now living in Spain. A handful of millions in bribes went to a Catalan politician referred to in the Iraqi files as Xavier Robert, who some in Spain believe to be Xavier Robert de Ventos, a prominent Socialist and defender of the Iraqi regime, although no hard evidence supporting that allegation has surfaced as of now.
I'd stress the last three words.

BOMBS, BASQUES, AND BOISE: Patrick Cox has a superb article about the ethnicist link between the terrorist group ETA, Basque nationalism, and the areas populated by people with Basque heritage in Idaho (via HispaLibertas).

And Robert Duncan wonders if there's anything else to that link: "the financing of ETA in relation to Basques living abroad - such as among those groups who emmigrated to the western area of the States (could there be something similar to the IRA connection with fundraising among Irish descendents in the States?)". He links to several pieces of information.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

French President Jacques Chirac and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero backed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Tuesday in the face of criticism over the U.N. oil-for-food scandal in Iraq.

"They both called Kofi Annan jointly to express their solidarity at a time when he is being unfairly attacked," a Spanish government spokesman told reporters.

Zapatero and Chirac, in the northern Spanish city of Zaragoza for a bilateral summit, discussed Annan's situation during a lunch and agreed to telephone him immediately, he said.

Annan, the winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, has come under scrutiny over the $64 billion oil-for-food program for Iraq, administered by the U.N. and supervised by the 15-nation Security Council.
On the other hand, this is a disappointment and, unlike the previous item, unexpected; at least on these terms.

BAD NEWS for Spain's economy:
Spanish industrial output declined by seven per cent in October on a 12-month basis, compared with a revised 3.7-per cent increase in September, the national statistics institute (INE) said on Friday.

September industrial output had initially been calculated at a rise of 3.9 per cent.

INE said that taking into account calendar effects, industrial output fell 1.5 per cent in October, compared with a revised 3.1 per cent rise in September.

Energy production declined 0.8 per cent in October from a year earlier, while that of consumer goods fell nine per cent.

Production of capital goods, those used to producer other goods, dropped 9.7 per cent, while intermediary goods production fell 6.1 per cent.

SPEAK FOR YOURSELF, BUDDY! It's amazing how one single sentence can bring so much light to what's wrong with this country and particularly the leftist academia:
"We Spanish saw the reaction to 9-11 in the United States as a bit hysterical," said Antonio Remiro, professor of international affairs at the Autonomous University of Madrid. "Maybe we're more fatalistic in Spain. But people don't want to live with this perpetual fear of another terrorist strike."
I don't think the word to use here is "fatalistic". It's "afraid", since the situation he says people wanted to avoid is fear (of another terrorist strike). That's fear, in my book. Funny, because so many people, pro-Zapatero, dispute vigorously, as if it was a personal offence, the suggestion that the March 14 surprising results were the product of fear.

As for the characterization of the reaction to 9/11 as "hysterical", well, it speaks for itself. Anyway, the guy thinks he can speak for all Spaniards. Not in my name, buddy, not in my name.

Anyway, Remiro, if it's true that people don't want to live with this perpetual fear of another terrorist attack, what do you make of these?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Students heckle Iranian president

Iranian students have interrupted a speech by President Mohammad Khatami to mark Student Day at Tehran university.

Students chanted "Shame on you" and "Where are your promised freedoms?" to express their frustration with the failure of Iran's reform movement.

A visibly-shaken Khatami defended his record and criticised the powerful hardliners who have closed newspapers and jailed dissidents.

He asked students to stop heckling and accused his critics of intolerance.

Students were once some of President Khatami's strongest supporters.
Something's moving in the land of the ayatollahs, and it's a good thing; particularly because the news from there have been quite worrisome recently.

GOOD NEWS FROM IRAQ part 16, by the excellent Arthur Chrenkoff:
It takes a lot to get a man of God annoyed, and Louis Sako, the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, is a very frustrated man these days. "It is not all death and destruction," says the archbishop. "Much is positive in Iraq today. . . . Universities are operating, schools are open, people go out onto the streets normally. . . . Where there's a kidnapping or a homicide the news gets out immediately, and this causes fear among the people. . . . Those who commit such violence are resisting against Iraqis who want to build their country."

It's not just the terrorists who, according to His Eminence, are creating problems for Iraq: Elections in January "will be a starting point for a new Iraq," he says. Yet "Western newspapers and broadcasters are simply peddling propaganda and misinformation. . . . Iraqis are happy to be having elections and are looking forward to them because they will be useful for national unity. . . . Perhaps not everything will go exactly to plan, but, with time, things will improve. Finally Iraqis will be given the chance to choose. Why is there so much noise and debate coming out from the West when before, under Saddam, there were no free elections, but no one said a thing?"

The archbishop has this wish for the international bystanders: "Europe is absent, it's not out there; the United States is on its own. . . . [Europe] must help the Iraqi government to control its borders to prevent the entry of foreign terrorists, [but] also provide economic help to encourage a new form of culture which is open to coexistence, the acceptance of others, respect for the human person and for other cultures. . . . Europe must understand that there is no time to waste on marginal or selfish interests: The entire world needs peace."

Archbishop Sako's frustration is increasingly shared by other Iraqis, who can hardly recognize their country from the foreign media coverage. Westerners, too, both military and civilians, upon their return are often finding to their surprise and concern they had lived and worked in a different country to that their loved ones, friends and neighbors back home saw every night on the news. "Our" Iraq is a place of violence, uncertainty, and frustration; "their" Iraq all that, but also so much more: work and renewal, hope and enthusiasm, new opportunities and new possibilities. Here are the last two weeks' worth of stories you might have missed while watching "our" Iraq on the news:
Go there and read it all.

JUAN HERVADA is back from his long blogging hiatus, and it was about time! I have been looking forward to his posts since he's become one of my favorite Spanish bloggers (though he writes many entries in English too). Juan is a experienced Spanish journalist living in France and was in the US covering the US elections with his unique perspective. I'll be looking forward to reading his posts; he had told me by email that he had a lot of things to write about how many things in European's conventional wisdom about US politics are wrong.

After the US, he came to Spain spending three weeks doing some research and interviewing people about the country's economic prospects for 2005:
The situation there is chaotic in more than one way, with at least a dozen of different factions vying for power within the clannish Spanish left. Zapatero is fast losing his shine and people start to realize that the terrorist attacks in Madrid last March maybe were some sort of coup d’état. I intend to write about that and, generally speaking, about Spain in the coming weeks, since it appears to me that it is still the weakest link in the War on Terror…
Welcome back, Juan; I'll be looking to read your insights.

THE BOMB DEFUSED yesterday was actually a part of a bigger campaing (which started last Friday with the five bombs in Madrid's gas stations), as proved by the seven bombs which exploded earlier today all across Spain:
At least six explosive devices detonated Monday [actually it's been seven -- FA] around Spain after telephone warnings from callers claiming to speak on behalf of the armed Basque separatist group ETA, news reports said.

Explosions were reported in Leon and Santillana del Mar in the north, Avila and Ciudad Real in central Spain, Alicante in the east, and Malaga in the south, the news agency Europa Press reported.

The Interior Ministry said it had confirmed at least three explosions. It reported no injuries.

The blasts followed two telephone warnings to the Basque newspaper Gara from callers claiming to represent ETA that said explosives had been placed in seven cities spanning Spain's geography from north to south.

The Interior Ministry had said the seven sites targeted -- streets and plazas and a parking lot -- had been evacuated and cordoned off.

UPDATE. There were some causalties, fortunately none of them fatal, CNN reports:
Five people were slightly wounded when seven bombs exploded in as many Spanish cities following warnings by Basque separatist group ETA, according to officials.

Monday's blasts came just three days after a similar warning was issued about five bombs in Madrid that later exploded.

A spokeswoman for Spanish Interior Ministry said two of the wounded people were police officers who were evacuating a cafeteria in the southern city of Ciudad Real when a bomb exploded.

One other person was wounded in Ciudad Real, and two more were wounded in the northern city of Santillana del Mar.

News reports said one of the two wounded in Santillan del Mar was a 5-year-old child.

Other bombs exploded in Avila, Valladolid, Leon, Malaga and Alacante, all at about 1.30 p.m. (1230 GMT) on Monday, the time indicated by phone calls to the Basque newspaper Gara.

After the phone calls, police dispatched officers to the locations indicated to minimize casualities.

The interior ministry said the injuries may have taken place because some of the bombs went off in different locations than warned of by ETA.
Which is odd; as far as I remember this is not usual, they've normally been more professional (in the wicked sense) in the past. Maybe it's just that it's new recruits with less experience, after so many leaders have been arrested in the last weeks. Or maybe it's someone else falsely claiming it's ETA. It wouldn't be the first time.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

A BOMB HAS BEEN DEFUSED by Spanish police in the Southern city of Almerica; luckily, unlike last Friday, it was de-activated before it exploded:
Spanish police have defused a small bomb in the southern city of Almeria, possibly planted by the Basque separatist group ETA and set to explode on Monday, Spain's Constitution Day.

ETA set off five bombs simultaneously in Madrid on Friday night, the outlawed group's first serious attack in the capital in two years.

The Interior Ministry says the latest bomb was hidden in a suitcase and left in a square in Almeria on Saturday.

It says it was made with less than 200 grams of the ammonia-based explosive commonly used by ETA.

A note bearing the initials ETA was found in the suitcase.

The bomb had been set to go off at 1230 GMT on Monday, the anniversary of Spain's 1978 constitution.

KOJO ANNAN, the son of UN's Secretary General, is a real piece of work. Beyond his implication in the Oil For Food swindle, he seems he's been using his father's name for all kinds of business:
The son of Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, lobbied for business contacts at gatherings of UN officials on behalf of a company in the same year as it won an oil-for-food programme deal, it has emerged.

The second disclosure in a week about Kojo Annan's role with the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection Services, which secured the $4.8 million (£2.46 million) UN contract to monitor goods entering and leaving Iraq in 1998, has raised embarrassing questions for his father. The details were revealed in Cotecna company documents handed over under subpoena to US congressional scrutineers who are investigating the oil-for-food scandal in which Saddam Hussein is thought to have creamed off more than $20 billion.

In one billing memo, a US investigator told The Telegraph, Kojo Annan, 29, claimed fees and expenses for eight days' work in July 1998, including six days in Abuja "during my father's visit to Nigeria". On another, he claimed expenses and $500 a day for a 15-day trip to New York and the UN General Assembly in September 1998 for meetings on "special projects".

Kojo was working as a consultant on African business deals for Cotecna at the time.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

I WARNED about a slippery slope scenario. Well, here's the first evidence:
A hospital in the Netherlands - the first nation to permit euthanasia - recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives.

The announcement by the Groningen Academic Hospital came amid a growing discussion in Holland on whether to legalize euthanasia on people incapable of deciding for themselves whether they want to end their lives - a prospect viewed with horror by euthanasia opponents and as a natural evolution by advocates.
Hugh Hewitt is rightfully mad at this.

UPDATE. The Diplomad comments.

READER KEN SHOTWELL emails to ask why I haven't written anything about the five bomb blasts in Madrid's gas stations yesterday. Actually I was away almost for the whole day, came back late and headed right to bed without turning on the TV nor the computer, so I learned about it this morning. Today I'm catching up with my reading, and fortunately I don't have too much to add to the media accounts of the incident. I'm writing fortunately since this means that the blasts caused only minor injuries to a couple of policemen who had been dispatched after a warning that detonations were going to occur was phoned in to a newspaper. Here's the London Times about this:
ETA, the Basque separatist organisation, detonated five small bombs in Madrid last night, signalling that, despite recent setbacks, it was not yet ready to renounce violence.

The bombs exploded without causing serious injury at five petrol stations located on key exit roads from northern Madrid yesterday and caused traffic chaos at the start of a long holiday weekend. One policeman was slightly hurt.

The Basque newspaper Gara in San Sebastián received a telephoned warning at 5.30pm in the name of Eta naming the location of the devices on the outskirts of the capital.

Police had time to move people out four of the petrol stations before the bombs, which were placed in rubbish bins, exploded at 6.30pm.

The given location of the fifth bomb proved to be wrong, but when it blew up no one was hurt.
The immediate effect of these bombs is that it spells the end of the hope that ETA would put the arms down, a rumor that was starting to get some traction even though, in the past, ETA killers have declared truces a couple of times in the past but actually more than a real truce it was more like an Islamic hudna, since they used the period to regroup and rearm:
Only last month, Batasuna, Eta’s political wing, had hinted at a possible truce during a meeting in San Sebastián, but the Government dismissed the statements as propaganda.

Eta has called truces in the past when its apparatus has been severely weakened — as is now the case — but has previously used the breathing space to regroup and re-arm.

Friday, December 03, 2004

KEVIN AYLWARD at Wizbang has announced the second edition of the Weblog Awards. An especially significant year, since blog has just been declared Word of the Year by Merriam Webster.

The awards are itemized in several categories, one of them is for the Best European (non UK) blog, and I'm deeply honored to be among the nominated. And surprised too, since I just learned about this from the referrers to Barcepundit.

My good friends at HispaLibertas are also nominated; I just voted for them.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

NOW I SAY IT, now I don't:
Spain's foreign minister has denied he accused the previous government of taking part in the short-lived April 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Miguel Angel Moratinos told the Spanish parliament he said the former administration led by Jose Maria Aznar endorsed the attempted coup afterwards..

"I did not accuse (former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's government) of participating in the preparation of the coup," el Moratinos said.

"When I said support I meant - and mean to say - that (the previous administration) did not condemn the coup and gave it international legitimacy."
For the record, this is the literal quote of what sparked the controversy: "during the last government, the Spanish ambassador received instructions to support the coup, something unknown in Spanish diplomacy, something that will not happen again in the future." If he intends us to believe that he didn't mean that the last government had a role in the coup (much more than 'not condemning') then he's stupid, or he thinks everyone else is.

By the way, why haven't you produced a quote of yourself condemning the coup back then, Moratinos? Mmmmmm.