Friday, April 22, 2016

Migrating Through Spain

Going to start you with a Sunday Globe Special:

"The freedom of expression in the age of terror" by Elvira Lindo   March 06, 2016

A foreigner visiting Spain early last month would have found shocking news on the front page of nearly every newspaper: Two puppeteers had been arrested while performing in Madrid on charges of glorifying terrorism.

It fills mine, and after a while you become quite jaded to it.

Those dramatic headlines stood in stark contrast with the harmless appearance of the accused: a pair of typical-looking street performers maneuvering marionettes in a small and cheap-looking theater. The puppet play, as it turned out, wasn’t suitable for kids and probably shouldn’t have been held in a city-owned theater. What a few years ago would have ended with just a complaint and maybe a letter to the editor, however, resulted in legal action that sent the puppeteers behind bars for a few days.

How do you say Wellesley in Spanish? 

You can say it in a couple of ways?

It was also during this tense month that the spokeswoman for left-wing city government of Madrid, Rita Maestre, testified in court about her role in a university protest five years ago. Maestre was 21 years old when she and a group of fellow students burst into the chapel at the Complutense University of Madrid. After lifting up her shirt and flashing her bra, she shouted slogans against the Catholic Church for meddling in the country’s public institutions.

Now that is a protest I'd like to see.

Justice in Spain is a little like an elephant — slow-moving with a long memory. In the five years since her university days as an activist, Maestre has became the one of the faces of Podemos, the new leftist party in Spanish politics, which took its name from a political slogan familiar to Americans, “We can.”

Days after Maestre’s court appearance, Dolors Miquel, a Catalan poet renowned for her transgressive spirit, delivered a singular version of the Lord’s Prayer during a ceremony before the Barcelona City Council. Her prayer, in praise of the vagina (she called it a “prayer to maternity”), prompted a horrified representative of the ruling conservative Popular Party to leave the hall in protest. She has been threatened with legal action for “attacking religious sentiment.”

At least she didn't breastfeed in there.

These are not isolated cases — for some time now, there has been a troubling trend in Spain to prosecute anything considered offensive to institutions and beliefs. It’s understandable that in some European countries like ours, where terrorism ravaged everyday life for so many years, that there is a willingness to shield victims of aggression and show them the compassion that was once denied. But this noble sentiment isn’t what’s driving all the offended parties to complain so loudly.

Stories about the freedom of speech and its limits create such a media circus that some may conclude Spain is at the edge of a precipice, just about to leap into a deep ravine of immorality. Conservative TV personalities relentlessly dissect each alleged attack against the Catholic Church in a drumbeat of coverage that provokes a state of unrest and fear in their viewers.

But all this smoke obscures the fire — the real sins that are rocking the foundations of Spanish democracy. Those are found in other courtrooms and have nothing to do with belief and everything to do with greed.

At the same time that the puppeteers and Maestre dominated talk among the political chattering classes, there were four other trials happening in Spain. In Palma de Mallorca, the son-in-law of the Spain’s emeritus king, Juan Carlos, Iñaki Urdangarín, clumsily answered charges of embezzlement, money laundering, and tax fraud, among other crimes. His wife, Cristina, is a defendant in the trial, accused of being an accomplice.

In Valencia, the Popular Party’s leadership faces accusations of money laundering and illicit funding. In the Spanish national court, the former president of Catalonia and one of the leaders of its independence movement, Jordi Pujol, faced charges of tax evasion. And in the capital of Madrid, the Popular Party itself faces allegations of irregular financing.

An astonished citizenry has watched the unending trickle of corruption cases that have stained, by extension, all the political parties that have shared power in Spain in the decades since the end of the dictatorship.

The slew of accusations against elected officials has alarmed rank and file conservative politicians. So they try to divert attention toward hot-button issues with deep emotional resonance in the country: religion and terrorism. Each issue is powerfully linked to old traumas that the country hasn’t entirely overcome — the civil war and the decades-long fight against the Basque terrorist group ETA.

I never realized we Americans had so much in common with the Spanish.

Of course, the real victim today is the freedom of expression. That’s because the ultimate goal of those who attempt to curtail that right is to make citizens think that every time their beliefs are called into question they have the right to put the offending party on trial.

That’s doom for those of us who write, those of us who practice irony or sarcasm, and aspire to provoke a feeling of healthy discomfort in our readers or viewers. We’re not here to coddle the public with our words but to awaken it. Indeed, every great work of criticism has been born out of the tension between the transgressor and the establishment.

The battle lines in this fight are not as obvious and clean as one might suspect. The archbishop of Madrid, for example, forgave Rita Maestre’s act, dismissing it as a juvenile peccadillo, yet it is conservatives in government who keep demanding jail.

The sad reality is that between the possibility of punishment in a courtroom and the harsh judgment of the masses, it is us, the writers, artists, intellectuals, puppeteers — who find ourselves a little helpless. That is the sign of our times. Institutions, interest groups, political parties, the faithful . . . they have the strength to shelter their own, but we have only our names as our shields, and we face the danger alone.


That made me stop and pause for a bit. 

Who knew Socialists hated free speech?

"The siesta’s going to the dogs in Spain" by Niraj Chokshi Washington Post   April 05, 2016

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants to end a long-standing and well-recognized tradition: the mid-afternoon nap.

I'm about due for mine.

Under new legislation, Spain would switch the country back to Greenwich Mean Time and do away with siestas, the sleep-filled breaks some Spaniards take.

‘‘I will find a consensus to make sure the working day ends at 6 p.m.,’’ Rajoy said, according to the London Times.

He made the push at a party conference over the weekend, where he tried to court other parties, unions and business leaders to support the idea, according to the Standard.

A typical Spanish work day begins at 10 a.m. and is split in half by a two- to three-hour lunch break known as the siesta. Spaniards typically take the break at 2 p.m. and return to work around 4 or 5. The work day typically ends at 8 p.m.

This isn’t the first time Spain has considered ending the practice.

In 2012, the government loosened restrictions to allow stores to stay open as much as 25 percent longer each week, a move that threatened the tradition, Bloomberg News reported at the time. A year later, a parliamentary commission called for both of Rajoy’s proposals: The introduction of a 9-to-5 workday (he suggests it should end at 6 p.m.) and the time-zone switch.

Why don't you all just become like AmeriKa?

Despite sitting in the middle of the Western European time zone, Spain observes Central European time, a change made decades ago in solidarity with Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Oh, you gotta turn that clock forward!

‘‘Because of a great historical error, in Spain we eat at 2 p.m., and we don’t have dinner until 9 p.m., but according to the position of the sun, we eat at the same time as the rest of Europe: 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.,’’ Nuria Chinchilla, director of the International Center on Work and Family at the IESE Business School, told the Guardian in 2013. ‘‘We are living with 71 years of jet-lag, and it’s unsustainable.’’ 

What difference does it make what time you eat? 

The word siesta derives from the Latin word sexta, or sixth hour, according to the Atlas of Sleep Medicine. Some believe the practice evolved out of a desire to avoid the crushing midday heat, but according to the authors of that book — all Mayo Clinic researchers — people in colder climates were also known to have followed a similar tradition.

Researchers have reported that siestas may provide certain health benefits

Government can't have that!

Just last month, the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Hypertension published a study that found a significant relationship between siesta and decreased prevalence of hypertension. In 2007, a group of researchers found that, among more than 23,000 Greek adults studied, those who regularly took siestas were significantly less likely to die of heart disease.

A lot of them have gone on permanent siesta due to unemployment.


The Spanish protested that like sheep.

"Ex-CIA officer faces extradition to Italy for alleged role in kidnapping cleric" by Ian Shapira Washington Post  April 22, 2016

WASHINGTON — More than 13 years after an Egyptian cleric was kidnapped in Milan by CIA operatives, a former agency officer living in Portugal faces extradition to Italy and the possibility of a four-year prison sentence — an outcome that a former agency historian describes as ‘‘unprecedented.’’

Sabrina De Sousa, 60, was one of 26 Americans convicted in absentia by Italian courts for her alleged role in the 2003 rendition of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also called Abu Omar, a terrorism suspect who was eventually released.

Like the others, De Sousa never really faced the threat of imprisonment because she’d moved back to the United States long before the Italian trials began. But last spring, she traveled to Portugal and in the fall was detained at the Lisbon airport on a European arrest warrant.

This week, Portugal’s highest court upheld lower courts’ rulings and said De Sousa should be sent to Italy. Portugal’s Constitutional Court also reiterated a condition set by the lower courts — and guaranteed by Italy — that she must be given another trial or a chance to appeal with new evidence and to call Italian and US witnesses, because she’d been tried in absentia. But De Sousa, who denies she played a role in the kidnapping, said she is not sure whether the Italians will simply throw her in prison.

Her Portuguese attorney, Manuel Magalhaes e Silva, said Italian authorities might wind up forcing De Sousa to complete her four-year prison term.

‘‘It’s kind of a surreal situation,’’ De Sousa said. ‘‘I’ve spent years wanting to counter the charges against me.”

Like reading a paper.

Benjamin Fischer, a former CIA historian, said he couldn’t think of another case like De Sousa’s in agency history. ‘‘It’s unprecedented,’’ he said.

The CIA declined to comment.

They just did with this article!

Laura Pitter, a senior national security counsel at Human Rights Watch, did not want to comment on the merits of De Sousa’s case, but didn’t think she should be the first and so far only person held accountable for the CIA’s rendition program, given her allegedly minor role.

‘‘It should be the senior officials and contractors involved in authorizing and implementing the program and those who actually inflicted the torture on individuals in US custody,’’ she said.

In recent weeks, De Sousa’s attorney in Washington, Abbe Lowell, said he’s spoken with government officials about her case. He declined to elaborate but said the ‘‘government appreciates the unusual situation that Sabrina finds herself in.’’

As she waits to be sent to Italy, De Sousa and her husband are living in a rented condo in Lisbon. She keeps herself busy working on her case — and a memoir.


She can always swim home:

"UK tourist rescued after ‘trying to swim to cruise ship’" Associated Press  March 28, 2016

LISBON — A 65-year-old British woman told police in Portugal’s Madeira Islands she tried to swim out to a departing cruise ship in the mistaken belief that her husband was on board. She was rescued by fishermen, an official said Monday.

Susan Brown told maritime police that she and her husband had decided Saturday to fly home early from their cruise aboard the Marco Polo, which had stopped over that day in Madeira.

However, Felix Marques, harbor captain, said Brown told police she later lost sight of her husband at Funchal airport after they argued, and she was ‘‘feeling desperate.’’

She said she had tried to swim out to the ship from an area by the seaside airport when she saw it sailing out of Funchal in the evening, thinking her husband was on board, according to Marques. Police have since determined that her husband boarded a flight to Bristol, England.

Brown only had her handbag with her when a local fishing boat came across her in the Atlantic after midnight, Marques said.

The sea temperature was 64 degrees. She was taken to hospital with advanced hypothermia and was later moved to a psychiatric wardMarques said."