Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Para todo hay una primera vez

Como dice el título, para todo hay una primera vez. Para lo bueno y para lo malo. Ayer tocó malo. He ido varias veces a visitar a mi GP (médico de cabecera en Reino Unido, para entendernos), y he estado alguna vez en una walk-in clinic (puedes ir sin hora) que hay en la surgery (ambulatorio) del campus. Pero nunca había necesitado tener que ir al hospital, hasta ayer.

Llevaba unos días notándome algo de dolor en el pecho, pero no le di mayor importancia. Ayer sin embargo empezó a ser más y más fuerte, hasta que no me podía sentir el lado izquierdo del pecho, un poco por encima del corazón, y fui notando como el dolor se extendía por el cuello y el brazo izquierdo. Imaginaos el buen rollo que te da notarte esto. Como por mi enfermedad tengo recetado Diazepan, lo primero que hice fue meterme uno en la boca. Los antecedentes familiares hacen que uno sepa el procedimiento a seguir. Llamé a un taxi, y me fui al hospital.
Al llegar, me pidieron mi nombre, mi ocupación, el nombre de mi GP y un teléfono de contacto. Se lo dije, le expliqué lo que estaba pasando, e inmediatamente la mujer de recepción llamó por teléfono a alguien dentro y me hicieron pasar. No pudieron pasar más de dos minutos cuando vino una enfermera, me fue haciendo preguntas sobre el dolor, y me hizo un electro, me tomó la tensión y las pulsaciones. Se llevó todo a que lo viera el doctor, y vino a los dos minutos a pedirme un electro que le llevé que tuvieron que hacerme en septiembre. Se fue, esta vez tardó algo más de rato en volver, y me dijo "bueno, en principio tu corazón está funcionando bien, no debería haber mucho problema, entonces vamos a hacer que salgas a la sala de espera y un médico te verá en cuanto podamos, te parece bien?". Me garantizó que con lo que habían visto estaban contentos con que esperase en la sala, así que les dije que sin ningún problema.
No estoy seguro de cuánto tiempo pasó en la sala porque pasé la mitad al teléfono y la otra mitad con unos amigos que casualmente me encontré en A&E también (Urgencias), pero no pudo ser más de media hora en ningún caso - aunque en las pantallas ponía que había 4h de espera. Ese fue un detalle que me gustó, que te pone el tiempo de espera en todos lados.
Me llamaron, usando mi nombre y apellidos en el orden correcto por primera vez en quién sabe cuánto, y el médico me hizo pasar a otro box. Me estuvo auscultando y palpando la zona, y me dijo que en principio es algo muscular, llamado costocondritis. Así que tengo que tomarme analgésicos (lo cual ha hecho subir mi dosis de 6 a 14-17 pastillas diarias) durante una semana, y la cosa debería irse. Si no se fuera, tengo que volver. Si el dolor fuera más fuerte, también tengo que volver. Y en cualquier caso en algo más de una semana vuelvo a Barcelona, así que le pedí que me hiciera un informe para llevárselo a mi médico de cabecera. Y tachán-tachán, en este país no hacen informes. Envían la información a mi GP, pero claro, le dije que eso no me servía porque a quien se lo voy a llevar es a mi GP español, no al británico. Me explicó que el procedimiento es pedir el informe a tu GP una vez ellos lo han recibido... pagando (no sé cuánto aunque por lo que veo en internet entre £10 y £50) por solicitar el informe. Sin embargo, me dijo que no me preocupara; se fue y volvió al par de minutos con un papel del hospital adonde a mano me escribió el nombre de lo que tenía y un nombre alternativo por si el primero no se usa en España, para que me puedan mirar allí.
Me iba a mandar algo con codeína en un principio, pero hace unos años tuve un problema tomando codeína y un médico amablemente me recomendó que no la volviera a tomar nunca más, bajo ninguna circunstancia. Entonces me dijo que de acuerdo, que probáramos con ibuprofeno, aunque con cuidado porque puede causar reflujo. Le conté el tema de la EE y la medicación que estoy tomando y que sigo teniendo reflujo con ella, pero también que a veces he tomado ibuprofeno y no he tenido mucho problema, así que lo estuvimos hablando y al final me recetó tanto ibuprofeno como paracetamol y me dijo que fuera alternando, probara primero con uno y luego con el otro, o incluso los dos a la vez, si veía que el dolor era fuerte. Me dio una receta interna sólo válida en la farmacia del hospital. Allá que me fui, y a los diez minutos me dieron los medicamentos (la caja de ibuprofeno es totalmente blanca, lo cuál me hace pensar que te lo preparan allí en el momento).
Las prescriptions (recetas) en Inglaterra se pagan a £7.65 por item (artículo) en cada receta. Hace una semana y algo tuve que ir a por medicamentos para mi enfermedad y me salía la broma por casi £40, así que me dijeron que si pagaba £29.10 tendría recetas ilimitadas por tres meses (se llama pre-payment certificate). Menos mal que lo compré, porque si no ayer me hubiese tocado desembolsar algo más de £15 otra vez. Y hasta finales de febrero podré usar tantas recetas como quiera (incluyendo las repeticiones de mi long-term prescription) sin tener que pagar un penique más.
Tras tal aventura, toda acontecida en algo menos de dos horas, llamé a otro taxi y me vine a casa.

Me gustó mucho el trato que me dieron, no puedo quejarme en absoluto. Por suerte o por desgracia me ha tocado ir a muchos hospitales, y el hospital universitario de York, parte del NHS me ha parecido muy bueno. Un par de cosas curiosas:
- En la sala de espera había dos policías (mujeres las dos) de 2m x 2m cada una, junto con una chav (garrula/choni inglesa peligrosa) de metro cuarenta de alto, muy bebida y probablemente muy drogada también, esposada. Alguna vez he visto policía en una sala de espera, pero algo tan bestia no me había tocado verlo nunca. La gente no parecía verlo fuera de lo ordinario.
- La cafetería del hospital es... un Costa, cómo no. No deja de sorprenderme el amor que le tienen los británicos a las grandes cadenas.
- El hecho de que el hospital tenga farmacia propia, y que te dispensen recetas internas. Para un español esto suena muy a película estadounidense, pero aquí en Reino Unido es algo completamente normal. Me acabaré acostumbrando, imagino.

En cuanto a mí, aparte de apenas poder levantar nada con mi brazo izquierdo y tener que ir buscando posturas para poder teclear o abrir un libro, ya me he acostumbrado a tener el mismo dolor que se tiene cuando te da un infarto casi a todas horas, así que a esperar que se vaya, esperemos que pronto.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Respuesta a Sala-i-Martín

Como catalán, estoy francamente interesado en las elecciones de mañana. Elecciones en las que, según tengo entendido, Sala i Martín no podrá votar ya que renunció a la nacionalidad española en favor de la estadounidense.
En cualquier caso, está colaborando como el que más, y desde hace unas semanas (meses, de hecho) La Vanguardia está publicando una serie de vídeos con cortas explicaciones. Normalmente son bastante interesantes, y aunque ideológicamente XSM y yo no somos muy cercanos, es cierto que muchas veces le oigo decir cosas con mucho sentido común, y de vez en cuando se me escapa algún "¡cuánta razón!".
Sin embargo, el otro día hizo un vídeo titulado "¿Catalunya quedará fuera de la UE si se independiza?", y como catalán informado y estudiante de política y relaciones internacionales, no me he podido contener.
El vídeo en cuestión dura algo menos de cuatro minutos, y os lo pongo aquí debajo para que ni tengáis que ir a la web.

Analicemos el vídeo poco a poco.
En primer lugar, XSM argumenta que "no está claro que es la Unión Europea". Debo pues suponer que nunca ha buscado "Unión Europea"en Wikipedia, porque la verdad es que está bastante claro. Sin embargo, como buen académico, sabrá que Wikipedia no es una fuente fiable. Miremos qué dice la web oficial de la Unión Europea, pues.
La UE es una asociación económica y política singular de 27 países europeos que abarcan juntos gran parte del continente. Continuar leyendo.
Pero por si sois vagos, aquí tenéis un mapa. Los países en cualquier tonalidad verde forman parte de la Unión Europea.

En resumen, está MUY claro lo que la Unión Europea es y lo que deja de ser. El hecho que haya cierta solapación con otras instituciones y tratados no significa que deba ser confundida. Ni de lejos.

Esto es grave, desde luego, pero es que lo que dice a continuación es aún peor. "No está claro qué es beneficiarse de formar parte de la Unión Europea." Como alguien que ha vivido en Barcelona, ésta es grave. Justo ayer veía en The Guardian una herramienta interactiva para ver cómo te afecta el presupuesto europeo, depende de adónde vives. Os recomiendo encarecidamente que juguéis con ella un rato, podéis encontrarla aquí. Según esto, cada español aporta 213.99€ a la UE y recibe 294.65€ de la UE. Vamos, que cada español tiene un ingreso neto de 80.66€ anuales por estar en la UE. No puedo evitar ver un paralelismo entre los argumentos del norte de Europa para no dar dinero a los PIGS y el expolio fiscal Catalunya-España. Pero un alemán debe pensar, ¿si entre ellos no se quieren ayudar, por qué tendría que hacerlo yo? Después de todo, cada alemán pierde 92.21€ anuales por estar en la UE.
Dicho de otro modo, por hablar en plata, gracias al dinero recibido de la Unión Europea España (Catalunya incluída) ha podido construír una infraestructura de país civilizado. Todos hemos visto el famoso cartel "sufragado con fondos de la UE". De hecho, éste es el objetivo principal e inicial del Fondo de Cohesión. Los productos agrícolas españoles se venden gracias a la Política Agraria Común - política que está condenando a la miseria a medio tercer mundo, pero esto es otra historia. El estar en la Unión Europea nos mete dentro del bloque económico común más grande del mundo, y si las cosas fueran de otro modo, también sería el más resistente.
Obviamente hay muchísimos más beneficios, pero no quiero extenderme más de lo estrictamente necesario.

Pasemos pues al siguiente punto de Sala-i-Martín: las múltiples dimensiones que tiene la Unión. De acuerdo, hasta aquí todo bien. La burocracia europea es francamente compleja, tiene demasiadas capas y niveles distintos como para que nadie en su sano juicio pueda entenderlo. Si queréis una versión básica y simplificada, Wikipedia lo explica francamente bien en este enlace, y si queréis leer algo más sobre las agencias europeas, ésta es vuestra página. Sin embargo, cuál es mi sorpresa cuando me doy cuenta que XSM no está hablando de esto.
De repente, empieza a hablar de Schengen (que por cierto, en el vídeo aparece mal escrito). El Acuerdo de Schengen fue firmado por cinco países en 1985, y toma el nombre del pueblo luxemburgués adonde se firmó. Este tratado no tuvo nada que ver con la Unión Europea hasta 1997, cuando el Tratado de Amsterdam integró los principios de Schengen en la ley de la Unión. Pero esto no significa, en ningún caso, que Schengen y UE sean intercambiables. Como residente en Reino Unido yo esto debería saberlo muy bien, porque, ya que Reino Unido no forma parte de Schengen, aunque tanto España como Reino Unido forman parte de la Unión Europea, debo enseñar mi pasaporte o DNI a la policía de fronteras de ambos países cuando viajo. Y si decido viajar haciendo escala en Europa continental (Amsterdam, Frankfurt, París, Zurich...) tengo que pasar por seguridad y aduanas en el aeropuerto adonde hago cambio. Y sí, menciono Zurich, porque como bien menciona XSM en el vídeo, Suiza sí que forma parte de Schengen (como Noruega o Islandia). Pero hay estados miembros de la Unión Europea que están fuera de Schengen: Reino Unido, Irlanda, Chipre, Rumania y Bulgaria. Como será, que hay partes de estados UE y Schengen que no forman parte de Schengen (pero sí de la UE). Por quedarnos en casa, dos ejemplos son Ceuta y Melilla. Para viajar desde cualquiera de las dos ciudades a la península, los ciudadanos (españoles) en esos territorios tienen que enseñarle el DNI o el pasaporte a un agradable policía nacional. Comparad el mapa del Área Schengen con el enlazado anteriormente.

Sigue hablando del libre movimiento y circulación - de nuevo, esto depende de la membresía de la UE y de diversos tratados firmados con estados UE y otros estados europeos.
La mención a la eurozona es francamente interesante. Actualmente 17 estados miembros de la UE forman la Eurozona, además de otros siete estados no UE que usan el euro como moneda. Vamos, que hay 10 (11 con Croacia, próximamente) estados miembros que no tienen el euro. De nuevo, como residente en Inglaterra, debería saber esto, ya que en mi cartera siempre voy acompañado de la Reina y no de puentes y acueductos varios (cuando tengo la suerte de llevar "compañía"!). Por no perder la costumbre, nuevo mapa para comparar con los anteriores.

En el último punto de esta sección, XSM habla de la Comisión Europea y el Parlamento Europeo. Vamos a ver, esto no son cosas independientes o diferentes de la UE, son dos de sus instituciones de gobierno. Las dos más importantes junto con el Consejo Europeo y el Consejo de la Unión Europea (sí, son cosas totalmente diferentes, y no deben confundirse con el Consejo de Europa, que ni siquiera es una institución de la UE). Por complicarlo un poco más (ya he mencionado antes que en esto XSM sí lleva razón, la burocracia europea es compleja), el Consejo de la Unión Europea puede significar diferentes cosas dependiendo de la política que debe aprobarse.
La separación de poderes diseñada por Montesquieu no aplica exactamente a la Unión Europea, pero por simplificarlo una chispa más de lo necesario, la Comisión es el organismo que puede proponer leyes europeas, el Parlamento hace de poder legislativo (aprueba leyes, da legitimidad representativa al gobierno, etc.), el Consejo Europeo son cumbres de los jefes de gobierno/estado de los estados miembros, y el Consejo de la UE está formado por los ministros de los estados miembros relacionados con la materia a tratar. Si por ejemplo hay que hablar de economía, el Consejo de la UE es ECOFIN y está formado por los ministros de economía y finanzas de los estados miembros (esos 27).
La UE no tiene un poder ejecutivo como tal, y de hecho "Presidente de la Unión Europea" no significa nada y significa varias cosas al mismo tiempo. El poder judicial lo forma el Tribunal de Justicia de la Unión Europea, que a su vez no debe confundirse con el Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos, el tribunal de justicia del Consejo de Europa.
De acuerdo, reconozco que es complejo. Pero esto no significa que "nadie sepa" lo que son. Por tanto, le diría al señor Sala-i-Martín que no confunda las churras con las merinas.

Después de esta cadena de sin-sentidos, XSM pasa a aplicar todo lo que ha dicho al caso catalán.
Argumenta que nadie sabe qué dice la ley europea. Bueno, la verdad es que no sólo sí se sabe, sino que se puede consultar online: Tratado de Lisboa. De nuevo, por resumir, según la ley vigente, la adhesión inmediata/automática no está prevista. De acuerdo, Catalunya ya cumple con el acquis comunitario, pero tendría que solicitar su adhesión. De nuevo según la ley vigente, esto conllevaría una aprobación unánime de todos los estados miembros para que Catalunya accediera a la UE. Estamos de acuerdo en que a España le conviene aprobar esta entrada, ¿pero a Francia o Alemania, les conviene? ¿Y a Finlandia? ¿O mejor, a Reino Unido, que tiene el problema escocés en casa? ¿Y a cualquiera de los otros estados miembros? Desconozco la respuesta, pero creo conveniente al menos plantearse la pregunta.
También se menciona la falta de precedentes históricos. Bueno, esto podemos descubrirlo pronto, con el referéndum escocés de 2014. Igualmente, de lo que sí hay precedente es de una parte de un estado miembro abandonando este estado miembro y por tanto la Unión (Argelia-Francia, 1962), o lo que es aún más divertido, una parte de un estado miembro abandona la Unión pero no el estado miembro, y además lo hace mediante una decisión sometida a referéndum (Groenlandia-Dinamarca).
Un par de atrevidos han llegado a mencionar que si hubiera independencia tanto Catalunya como la nueva España sin Catalunya irían fuera de la UE y tendrían que volver a solicitar entrada. Bueno, pues no. Según la Convención de Viena del Derecho de Tratados, en 1969 dice que no se prejuzgará en caso de secesión (artículo 73). Pero esto fue solucionado en 1978, en la Convención de Viena sobre la Sucesión de Estado en materia de Tratados, adonde se dice que en caso de secesión, el estado que hereda el viejo estado es el que se queda con todos los tratados firmados y ratificados del antiguo estado , y el o los nuevos los que tienen que buscarse la vida. Serbia es el heredero tanto de Serbia y Montenegro como de toda Yugoslavia, y así lo sería España ante una secesión catalana o Reino Unido ante una secesión escocesa. Que quede claro.

Luego XSM habla de la UE como una entidad basada en intereses económicos, y menciona el nombre "Comunidad Económica Europea". Aplicando esa lógica, podríamos decir que la UE está basada en intereses del carbón y el acero... porque ése fue el inicio. En cualquier caso, si se cambió el nombre es precisamente porque se cambió la estructura, los pilares y los objetivos de la entidad. Pasamos de ser una comunidad a ser una unión. Para más información, léase el Tratado de la Unión Europea (más conocido como Tratado de Maastricht). Así que no, la UE no es una comunidad económica. De hecho, en la definición que pongo más arriba, se dice claramente "asociación económica y política" (mi énfasis).
En un ataque de demagogia, habla de la dificultad de las barreras arancelarias catalanas. Dos puntos al respecto. Primero, se dice que los españoles tendrían que pagar esas barreras. ¿Y los catalanes no, por cualquier exportación o importación que hagan? Después de todo, los "españoles" pueden ir por Irún. Seguro que los vascos están contentos. Sin embargo, y éste es mi segundo punto, el no estar en la Unión Europea no implica tener obligatoriamente que imponer aranceles. Noruega o Suiza son dos buenos ejemplos. O Islandia, por decir algo.

Sobre el interés, es obvio que en el punto en el que Europa está ahora, o bien nos unimos del todo o bien nos separamos, pero no podemos tomar ninguna tercera vía. Por tanto, está en los intereses de todos tener una Catalunya, sea independiente o no a nivel legal de España, integrada y dependiente en y de Europa. No es que nadie se vaya a atrever a echar a Catalunya de la eurozona y Schengen (que no significan Unión Europea de ninguna de las maneras), es que lo que sería un atrevimiento es que Catalunya siquiera considerase poder permitirse el lujo de abandonar dichas instituciones.
Como economista que es, sabrá que la membresía de la UE, y por tanto la promesa de apoyo final de la UE para repagar la deuda, son lo que está salvando ahora mismo a Grecia, Irlanda, Portugal y España. Y por qué no decirlo, a Italia, Bélgica y Francia también. Un país tan endeudado sin el apoyo de la Unión Europea, ¿cómo se financiaría? Así que menos "no está claro cómo la UE nos beneficia", porque está muy claro, y más en tiempos como los que corren.

Una última reflexión: si figuras políticas tan importantes como Durao Barroso o Van Rompuy ya han dicho que Catalunya no podría estar en la UE, al menos inmediatamente, ¿por qué hay que ponerlo en duda en favor de una explicación carente de hechos motivada por unos ideales claramente subjetivos?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Eleccions al Parlament...

...o bueno, mejor dicho, referéndum encubierto de independencia. ¿O no? Pues no, yo creo que no. Son elecciones al Parlament de Catalunya, al menos por ahora, y como tal deberían ser tomadas.

Tengo que enviar las papeletas el lunes como muy tarde, y estoy hecho un lío, aún no sé a quién votar.
Si es que puedo votar, que la verdad es que el proceso tiene telita. Lo resumo:
1. Tienes que estar registrado como residente en el extranjero en tu consulado correspondiente. Sólo diré que envié los papeles en febrero y me llegó la confirmación del registro en junio... en un municipio diferente del que había pedido (pero por motivos personales he decidido no cambiarlo, porque este segundo municipio también aparece en mi DNI).
2. Una vez estás registrado como residente, tienes que registrarte para votar en las elecciones (similar a lo que hacen estadounidenses y británicos). Me enviaron a Inglaterra una carta que podía rellenar y devolver por fax, pero como estaba en España cuando tenía que hacer el trámite, tuve que descargar un formulario, rellenarlo, adjuntar una fotocopia de mi DNI o pasaporte (sin compulsar, una escaneada cutre en casa vale), y enviar todo a la delegación provincial.
3. Rezas para que las papeletas te lleguen, y si llegan, que sea a tiempo.
4. Un buen día ves que el sobre te ha llegado y por poco se te saltan las lágrimas de alegría. Entonces abres el sobre, sacas la hoja de instrucciones y... bum, esas lágrimas se convierten en lágrimas de incomprensión.
5. Te vuelves a leer las instrucciones, es humanamente imposible que las hayas entendido la primera vez. (Instrucciones al final del post, por si las quieres leer.)
6. De las 16 papeletas que te han llegado si quieres que tu voto valga para algo metes una en el sobre con "DIPUTADOS/DIPUTATS" escrito fuera.
7. Metes este primer sobre (el de toda la vida) en un segundo sobre dirigido a la Junta Electoral Provincial. También debes introducir un certificado de inscripción en el censo (te han enviado dos) y una fotocopia del DNI o pasaporte. De uno de los certificados puedes recortar el talón para reclamar gastos postales, que debes también introducir en el mismo sobre.
8. Este segundo sobre lo metes en un tercer sobre, dirigido al consulado (en mi caso, Edimburgo). En este tercer sobre también debes introducir el segundo certificado de inscripción en el censo.
9. Te vas a la oficina más cercana del Royal Fail, y lo envías por correo certificado al consulado.

Visto así no suena tan difícil (aunque sí bastante enrevesado) pero creedme, la primera vez que lo lees no tienes ni idea de qué se supone que tienes que hacer con tanto papelorio. Tendría que haber consultado la web directamente, está todo más claro.


El caso es que ahora me veo con otro dilema: no sé qué votar. Creo que ahora mismo la independencia no sería beneficiosa, pero no me cierro la puerta al futuro. Soy un escéptico, lo mejor es lo que quiero, sea lo que sea. En cualquier caso, apoyo firmemente el permitir a la voluntad popular expresarse, así que estoy absolutamente a favor de un referéndum (no así de un lavado de cerebro para nada encubierto como el que propone Mas abiertamente, en su programa electoral e incluso en Salvados). Las opiniones deben ser libres, y en algo adonde nos jugamos tanto, la información debería ser neutral, debería dejar a los catalanes pensar y decidir por sí mismos. Pero es algo que ambos bandos están negando a la población, y ésta se está dejando.
Aparte de esto, Catalunya tiene muchos problemas. Sería absurdo votar a nuestro gobierno en base a sólo uno de esos problemas. Están los recortes, los desahucios, el escándalo de las preferentes, la sanidad deficitaria, la pérdida de calidad en la educación, el auge del sectarismo social, el malestar social (tanto por recortes como con la clase política como con el tema soberano), entre otros muchos.
El programa de CiU está bastante centrado en la cuestión soberanista y construír un país, el del PSC en rebatir a CiU, el del PP en soltar perlas como "favoreceremos a los inmigrantes de Hispanoamérica sobre el resto" (punto 97, si nadie me cree) y defender la eliminación de derechos sociales, y el de ICV que se centra en una alternativa izquierdista con cierto tufo a utopía roja catalanista.
Luego tenemos a todos los abiertamente independentistas, que no me planteo votar (Esquerra, SI, CUP); los abiertamente españolistas que tampoco me planteo votar (C's, UPD); y los minoritarios, que aunque algunos propongan cosas bonitas van a recibir tan pocos votos que no merece la pena malgastarlo (PACMA, Partit Pirata, UCE, Escaños en Blanco, VD, Hartos).
Y aparte está PxC, claro, pero creo que éstos se merecen un lugar propio en la clasificación.
¿Alguien me explica cómo se puede votar, en estas circunstancias?

Catalunya se encuentra en un cruce de caminos, esto está claro. Y no quiero que me lo cuenten, aunque sea desde lejos quiero participar. Pero sinceramente, si los ciudadanos tienen que pasar cada vez más hambre (como ahora), ver como sus derechos -humanos, civiles y políticos por igual- son mancillados con impunidad (como ahora), si estos ciudadanos no pueden trabajar ni pueden financiarse una educación, ven como los bancos les roban al descubierto (rescates, preferentes, desahucios sin dación en pago, etc.), si estos ciudadanos son emprendedores y ven como sus ideas no tienen ningún futuro porque nadie está dispuesto a -literalmente- dar un duro por ellos, si ven como se les niegan derechos básicos por no ser ciudadanos, si ven como sus hijos están creciendo en una sociedad que fomenta la diferencia y empieza a aceptar el odio y el sectarismo como el pan nuestro de cada día, o si se dan cuenta de que la élite que se supone que tiene que representarles se dedica a representarse a sí misma, y esto ocurre a nivel catalán, español, europeo, y no a nivel interespacial porque aún no se ha presentado la ocasión; bien, si todo esto ocurre, creo que me da igual que en nuestros pasaportes ponga Reino de España o República de Catalunya. Porque el ciudadano medio es probable que esté en una situación en la que no necesite un pasaporte para nada, o quizás, que ni pueda permitirse pagarse el costo de renovación del pasaporte.

Tengo hasta el lunes para decidirme.

*Anexo: Instrucciones.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

United Explanations

Lo que os comenté hace unas semanas finalmente se ha hecho realidad. Actualmente estoy colaborando para la página UnitedExplanations.org, y justo hace unos minutos me han publicado mi primer artículo.
De momento en castellano y catalán, aunque también tienen la traducción inglesa, que no debería tardar mucho en estar disponible:



Update: English version now available!
Catalan Independence, now?

All feedback welcome, give it a read and tell me what you think!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Democracy's deficits

First of all, I would like to say that no, I am not going nuts. I should be, seeing as I have hardly seen sunlight in the last two months, but I am not. You may have thought so, especially if you are familiar with political science's academia, and perhaps you may have thought me a fool for the post's title.
But if that is what has happened to you, I am sorry: you were wrong. I do not want to talk about democratic deficit in this post. Not exclusively, at least.

I would like to talk about the downsides of democracy. Whenever here in the West we hear the very word, democracy, our eyes fill with tears and we rejoice for being so lucky as to living in the free, democratic West. Yeah, for some reason, freedom and democracy seem to come together very often. If you happen to be an American, bravery might play a role too. It is also surprising the amount of Godly references in our supposedly free countries, including freedom of religion and technically, freedom not to profess any religion at all. But I am sort of digressing from the topic, and as interesting as it would be to discuss religion, I do not wish to do so. At least for now.

Last year I spent five hours a fortnight (ie a quarter of my contact hours) taking a compulsory module called Introduction to Democratic Politics. This may sound absurd, since 'we all know what democracy is and all politics should be democratic'. Oh, really? Well, if that is so, I would like you to stand out and give me a definition of what democracy really is.
Difficult, huh? Thought so. I'd say impossible, but out of deference and because I have grown up in the West and am thus conscious about the importance of political correctness, I will accept 'difficult'.
Personally, the definition of democracy I have a biggest liking for is one Sir Winston Churchill once said in a speech to the House of Commons in 1947. It goes like this:
Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
I like it for a variety of reasons. Firstly, because he does not attribute it to himself, but he uses the very ambiguous "it has been said...". Secondly, because it acknowledges our world to be one of sin and woe. And this is significant, not many people are willing to recognise evil's power, and its rise in significance the higher up you climb the power ladder. Thirdly, because he is actually saying both everything and nothing at the same time. The sentence can be interpreted in whatever manner you wish to interpret it, yet at the same time everyone gets the same thing out of it (albeit no one would be able to put that thing into words, but that is another matter!). And fourthly, and this is the most important reason for today's analysis, because it implies democracy is bad. At least (and again I am making this remark out of PC), it concedes democracy has downsides. These are the downsides I want to tackle today, not comprehensively of course, to try and reach a conclusion on whether democracy actually pays off.

Usually all downsides of democracy are encompassed in the so-called democratic deficit, and the democratic process is blamed for not living up to standard. But I do not like this idea at all. As I see it, democratic deficit consists in all those undemocratic activities, processes, institutions, etc. arising within a democratic territory, due to its very existence. Undemocratic can mean a lot of things and encompass many factors: lack of legitimacy, lack of representation, lack of accountability, excess of corruption, excess of nepotism, lack of freedom and/or equality, etc.
There is a difference between both things, though. The European Union is a good example to try to shed some light on the matter.
Both in the region and at a global level, the EU is seen as a landmark for freedom, democracy, democratisation, modernisation, and all those other words we are not sure what they mean and make us feel a little fuzzy inside but also imply something good. Whatever good means, I shall leave that up to you. Reality is far from this, however, as you may have already guessed.
The lack of accountability in EU institutions and decision making process is so huge I do not even know where to start. Its machinery is so huge most people would not even know where to start if they wanted the EU to account for something. The general public is utterly ignorant about European issues. Differences between the Commission, the European Council, the Council of the EU, the Council of Europe (yep, these three are completely different things), the Parliament, the Court of Justice, the Court of Human Rights, and many others, including the huge amount of nameless civil servants below all these make me shudder, and I have studied some of these. To the general public, it is simply too complicated to mean anything at all. Until three years ago, the European Council (the EU's executive, so to say) did not have a designated president. If you look up "President of the EU" on Wikipedia, four different positions come up.
Issues concerning representation also come up, and due to low number of elected offices and low turnout, issues on legitimacy may arise as well.

But these are all dangers of geopolitical betterment processes, and to be fair, the world is not perfect, so why should we complain, if it works? Well, we should complain for many reasons, because it is not working, but that is another story.

What I want to discuss today are downsides of democracy itself, not negative consequences which may arise from it or during its implementation.

I will stick to the EU for now, because it is really useful in proving a couple of points. I will talk about other cases as well, I will just try to apply all of them to the EU.
First of all, and this is perhaps the biggest downside I find to both democracy and politics, hypocrisy. I am no idealist (to all educated folks out there, let's say I would have been a Fabian in the context of a transition to socialism), and, something I find exceedingly rare these days, I believe in compromise. I may paradoxically be an idealist for believing in compromise, but I am willing to take that risk.
Hypocrisy strikes in so many ways I fear if I focus on it I will run out of other downsides of democracy as ultimately all may come from it.
Aristotle once said men are by nature political animals. I am going to risk it and say I think he was partially wrong. I am going to include all humans in this (men, women, and all the others), and I am going to say some people do not care that much about politics, civism, or however you want to define it. Everyone should, granted, but this is subjective. I am thus going to alter Aristotle's quote and say humans are by nature economic animals. People respond to incentives, and they always do. These incentives may have different natures (social, economical, political, moral, sentimental, etc.) but ultimately everything we do is out of incentive. Even charity work can be interpreted as an incentive to feel better about yourself.
Why have I said this? Well, it is fairly simple. If we acknowledge the truth of that sentence, it would be foolish to even think for one second that a small minority will represent everyone else... unless that's what suits them best. This is perhaps the origin of elitism, as this small minority will try to keep their offspring within the bubble (I am not even going to quote on this, but I think it is safe to say offspring's welfare is about the strongest incentive for pretty much any parent, anywhere and no matter at what point in history or their status, or anything else). Disregarding genetics (surely bright parents produce bright children?), this gives a simple explanation for political families. These exist in democracies. In the US, three examples come up to mind instantly: the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Roosevelts. But there are many others. Indeed, the list of US Presidents with kin ties to other US Presidents is long. It is even longer if we include other offices. For example, the current US Secretary of State and a former US President are married.
My point is, this elite is small. It is hard to ascertain whether these links occur because as family members they tend to move in the same elitist environments, or because these links provide them with a chance through nepotism they would not otherwise have. It probably is a mixture of both.
People willing to deny this will tell me "well, Sergio, this is very nice, but hey, opportunities are open to everyone". And they will be right. That's the magic of democracy, opportunities are truly there, you are just more likely to fulfil all requirements depending on your background. Equality of opportunity simply does not exist, and the sooner everyone accepts this, the better.

There is another form of hypocrisy which worries me a lot more, and it is that of interstate relations. The EU is a remarkable example of this, as it has 27 states (soon to be 28) relating within themselves and sometimes through/sometimes to a higher authority of pooled sovereignty they have created. Yet it is all the more remarkable because it is in no way a federal association, or has ever aspired to be one.
Requirements to enter the EU are very selective, and applicants must first revise their policy in order to comply with the Copenhagen Criteria. This disappears however once the applicant is a full member. Or so it seems.
Example #1: deficit. It is hardly a secret deficit levels have sky-rocketed with the current economic climate. The Maastricht Treaty (and thus the Copenhagen Criteria) allow for a deficit of up to 3% of GDP. Ireland's deficit in 2010 was nearly 32%. But the thing is, even before the crisis it was customary not to respect the limit. The ECJ in 2004 in fact ruled against sanctioning two EU countries for not respecting their deficit caps. Which countries were those? France and Germany.
Example #2: debt. Under Maastricht, debt is not to exceed 60%. Again, this has hardly been respected, since the times the euro was adopted. Germany respected this only in 2001 and countries such as Greece or Belgium in fact never have, not by a long shot.
Example #3: democratisation. Being democratic is a sine qua non condition for being a part of the EU. But governments are hardly respecting people's will, these days, favouring pretty much markets and, more worringly, the small capitalist elite behind these markets. I do not want to sound like a communist talking about greedy fat men, but it is true that the gap is becoming wider: the very rich are richer and the rest, poorer. But this has another connotation as well. Fidesz, a semi authoritarian party took office in Hungary a few years ago. Since then, it has implemented a new Constitution, favouring Fidesz over all other parties, affecting press freedom, etc. More info here. Some HR organisations have expressed concern, and even though the Commission threatened to act and started legal proceedings, nothing has been done about this. How can the EU allow all of this, and at the same time tell Hungary they have to pay their debts? Well, because money matters. Which leads us to the next example.
Example #4: markets. How many times have we heard "markets rule", "markets have been appeased by reforms" or "markets punish X for Y", in recent times? This is an euphemism for 'bankers and industrialists rule Europe' (and the world too). In a recent Spanish TV programme, a figure is given: as many as five thousand people lobby in the Bundestag (the German lower house), a chamber with 622 representatives. In the same programme, it is said that bailout money given by Germany is ultimately going to German banks who invested in the South when they made so much money after exceeding their debt and deficit thresholds.
Example #5: policy making. You may not think so, but a great deal of policy is made and decided at an EU level. This policy must be put forward by the Commission (an appointed body), developed by the civil service (unaccountable body) and ultimately passed by the European Parliament (elected in not nearly legitimate enough elections). However, persuasion plays a very important role in this policy making process, and a majority of negotiations take place in absolute secrecy and behind closed doors. Data will never be accessible. If you ask, this is perhaps the most effective way of passing legislation. But it is hardly democratic, no matter how you look at it.

But there is much more behind hypocrisy. For example, voter-friendly policy making. OK, I have made up the name, but I have no idea of how to call it. The concept is simple: much time and resources are wasted in appealing to voters. Take the US, for example: both the President and Senator Romney have been campaigning for months. If they campaign, surely they cannot really do their jobs as well as they should. Which means both the US federal government and the Massachusetts state government could be better ruled right now.
In addition, the huge amount of money being spent in a pointless campaign (it is already clear Obama will win) could be better spent elsewhere. Actually creating new jobs or making healthcare more affordable for US residents, instead of just flying around the country talking about doing those things, for example.
Not to talk about pursued policies. As I have said before, all humans respond to incentives. What incentive does a head of government have to pursue an unpopular but necessary policy if he knows he will lose office in the upcoming elections? Not much, really, as he will lose anyway. But what if he knows he may stand a small chance of regaining office? Then he will probably not pursue that policy. Instead, he will go for unnecessary and usually costly but voter-friendly policies, creating a burden to all taxpayers but ensuring he will regain office.
This is perhaps why common wisdom says "politicians are liars". Sometimes they tell outright lies, Mr Rajoy vs VAT being a significant example of this, but usually it is much subtler. They simply encourage different policies depending on what bit of the electoral cycle they happen to be at, at a particular point, in all cases to try and make sure they will win the next elections. Winning elections is thus an incentive, and therefore it is safe to assume elected politicians will respond to winning elections and then and only then to their electorate. If they were not elected, however, how and on what grounds would they be appointed?
Perhaps you are beginning to better understand Churchill's quote now.

There are issues with representation. Each electoral system is different, and none of them is good enough. The two countries I know best, Spain and the United Kingdom, prove good opposite examples. For national legislature elections (for the lower chamber), systems are pretty much opposite. The UK uses a first-past-the-post system. The country is divided into many small constituencies and each constituency returns one member to Parliament, this member being the candidate receiving a plurality of the votes. The good, MPs are close to their electorate; the bad, it is not proportional system and it is largely skewed in favour of big parties and regional parties. Many votes are wasted.
In contrast, Spain uses a PR closed-list system. Constituencies are large (the provinces), and each is allocated a number of MPs they must return to Parliament, a bit like different states carry different Electoral College votes in the US. The good, results are more proportional (but not quite either). The bad, everything else: there is no connection between MPs and their electorate, fewer votes are wasted but many are downgraded (those of big cities), and the electorate must choose parties, it cannot choose candidates.
Here enters personal preference. Personally I prefer FPTP because while it has many faults it favours an MP-elector relationship rather than party allegiance.
Probably the closest we have to a good electoral system is that of Ireland, STV (single transferable vote), but it is hard to see how it would work in countries as big as the United Kingdom or Spain.
But again, this is personal preference, and objectivity is nearly impossible to attain while discussing such an issue.

Lobbying and quango issues cannot be overlooked, either. I won't go into much detail about them, I don't want to make this post endless, and you can read more about it on Wikipedia and elsewhere. In a nutshell, they contest legitimacy and representation. Remember, people respond to incentives, and politicians, as weird as this may seem, are people too. If I am in the air industry and need a bill passed so I do not have to pay more noise taxes for flying over a residential area, logically I will have to fight that residential area's MP. But if I have access to Parliament/Congress, I can walk up to this person, and tell him: 'hey, if you pass that bill noise will not decrease much, these people knew there was an airport nearby - and I was thinking, maybe you'd like a holiday in Malaysia...'. What incentive will be stronger? A minimal, perhaps unperceptible change in noise levels, or taking the kids somewhere exotic, and perhaps solve those little problems you have been having as of lately with your partner?
This is a very simplified and exaggerate example of what I want to expose, as this is clearly a buy-off and not just lobbying, but I hope it proves my point.
Quangos on the other hand are so very unelected and unaccountable to anyone. At all. If they are effective, then you might say ok, but sometimes they are a waste, and then there is no possible excuse for them. Yet sometimes they are necessary to remove them from the "voter friendly policy making" I've warned you about before.

There are many others, but I will stop here. You can think for yourselves some others (comments welcome!). I am only trying to give you something to think about.
What is legitimacy? In fact, two types of legitimacy can be said to exist: input legitimacy and output legitimacy. The first one is concerned by representation and democratic issues. The second one is largely concerned by productivity and efficiency of decisions and pursued policies. Which one is/should be more important and why?
As I said, it is largely impossible to be objective in such a debate.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Quick personal update

Well, well, this week is being intense!
I went to the doctor two days ago to collect a certificate that I would give to my uni so I could get up to four weeks off to heal.
The doctor examined me, asked me how I was faring.
- Well, you know, I am feeling slightly better. I am far from well, but the medication at least makes it standable.
- So, if you leave, when are you back?
- Around Christmas.
- Then I will see you at Christmastime.
- Does this mean I can leave?
- Well, we can do nothing else right now or for the next few months. We must wait, and the treatment seems to be working. It is going to be slow, and do not expect miracles, you will have small attacks sometimes. You need to be careful, but you can be careful both here and there. I am giving you everything you need to take to your GP once you're in the UK. As long as you keep it under control, it is your call.

Which means I am off on Sunday. Friends and especially family are against this, but to be fair, this is not one of those illnesses in which the presence of someone matters. No one can do a thing, not even me, sometimes. No crazy student life for me, at least for now; granted. But I get to be there.

In addition, advancing myself for the first time in this blog's history, I am writing a few posts of analytical/political nature and saving the drafts, and I will publish them some time during the next few weeks.

I leave you with the titles:
- Democracy's deficits.
- The fallacies of equality.
- Family matters.

Oh, and it seems I will be writing occasionally for a current affairs website soon. Once I know more I will give you more details. But I am so excited to finally get to share my writings somewhere else!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

State of war

This may sound really silly, but from a theoretical point of view it makes quite a lot of sense.

Much has been said about the current economic climate. Too much, as I see it. But I want to focus on a particular analysis made by some groups, especially some radical left-wing anti-market groups. They have stated there is a war waging right now. Instead of countries fighting each other or factions fighting a civil war, this is a more subtle kind of war. Cold War-like, but with an economic focus.
Indeed, it could be said that countries are trying to fight markets, in this war, and as much as it pains me to say this, markets would be winning this war, so far.
To be fair, however, this is not the whole story. A few centuries ago, just after the Peace of Westphalia,  if a country could not repay another country what they owed, the solution was simple: invasion. Similar to a business hostile takeover, so to say. Which also meant feudal lords really tried to keep up with their payments and not be more indebted than they could afford to be. Capitalism is based on incentives, after all, and the prospect of losing a good way of life, a fortune and your independence is a very good incentive for you to try to avoid the circumstances which might make it happen.
However, during the financial boom, these negative incentives were removed. If brokers did really well, they earned outrageously huge amounts of money. If they did really bad, they were not penalised. Therefore, as for brokers it all was risk-free, they invested heavily, instead of wisely.
I do not want to discuss this, however. It is good to keep it in mind, but that's about it. I want to talk about countries today. I am going to take a realist perspective during this essay, overriding even the main EU tenets. Because, frankly, they need being overridden.
I have said before that in medieval times, creditor countries invaded indebted countries if the latter could not pay the former and defaulted. This is datio in solutum, after all. Something medieval lords used but modern European banks do not seem to understand, when it comes to mortgages. Even so, you probably have thought something like "these medieval savages, they did not know how to solve anything without war". Well, you are right, it is probably a savagery to use precepts such as might is right. But has it really changed that much?
Well, surprise: the answer is no.

Let us look at Europe. Since the implementation of the euro was badly made and created artificial economic change in much of Europe, it has led to so much trouble. Some say only more unity can solve this, others say there is no way to avoid suffering and an eventual breakdown of the currency will have to take place. I am not an economist and since the little money I have to my name is in sterling, I am not too concerned. Well, I am, but not just for now.
But the eurozone is in serious trouble, and peripheral countries within it all the more. Curiously enough, peripheral eurozone countries are actually geographically peripheral within Europe. This may be chance but to be fair it probably is not. When the ECSC was first conceived it affected largely the centre (and Italy), and being on the edges means having been a) more isolated from pan-European values (ie having less in common with countries at the centre) and b) more exposed to other ways of doing stuff, other values. Countries such as Ireland, Finland and Greece have pretty much nothing in common to have the same currency. But they do have the same currency. It was meant to encourage trade, but it encouraged many other things, and all of them artificially.
Historically, these countries have had different ways of doing things. Greece was part of Turkey until a century ago, while Ireland had a Celtic character largely oppressed by the British. Finland was part of Russia. One needs not be a genius to see Britons, Russians and Turks had next to nothing in common in managing their respective empires. Spaniards, the Portuguese and Italians also had different ways.
You may think this does not matter as it happened many, many years ago, but it does matter, and a lot.
Two of the countries most in trouble right now, Greece and Spain, fought civil wars around 80 years ago. As a result, you should expect those societies to be still largely fragmented, and you would be right. But then, what sense does it make that Germany is faring so well, since it was actually fragmented just about 20 years ago? Well, you might say it is a mystery, but not really. Germans have seen their country reduced to ashes twice in thirty years and they have moved on quickly, it is part of their ethos. This is not to say Germany has no internal problems and eastern Germany fares as well as western Germany because that would simply be a lie, but they have been more able to move on. At the price of forcing a sizeable chunk of the population to subsistence, but for some reason Germans have always been good at making sacrifices for the good of the nation. (If any Germans read this, do not be offended. I am not saying all you lot are equal or you like making those sacrifices, but it is true this has happened.) Spaniards or Greeks cannot be expected to make any sacrifices for the nation because there simply is no nation.
I am saying all this just to make you think whether it was a good idea to create the eurozone so soon and out of the blue, just like that, just like they did. This is coming from a convinced pro-Europe thinker, but it is true that they rushed it all a little bit too much for my liking.
So when it all happened, both Northern and Southern Europeans alike saw a land of opportunity in these peripheral countries. There was a boom and a massive growth, and no one wanted the party to ever end. Northerners invested and Southerners got rich. Everyone was happy.
Then the bad times came. And all that fraternity and sharing vanished. Suddenly everyone was more self-conscious than ever of whether they were Southerners or Northerners.
In a war there are winners and losers, and in this case the North is being clearly a winner. At least so far. They started talking about massive corruption and laziness and who-knows-what. Which is partly true, of course, especially the corruption bit, but they do not explain how they got on that same train because everyone was so happy they did the Dance of Joy.
After all this talk, the we-are-all-brethren discourse took hold, and like good brothers, help was given. But not without conditions because, after all, we are not brethren.
And so; Greece, Ireland and Portugal received bailouts but now have to accomodate  German-speaking civil servants who have a final say in their economic policy. These committees, known as the troika, are technically European but are controlled by Germany. Just like bailout money, technically European but ultimately given by Germany.
This control has led to harsh austerity measures which are not proved to improve a single thing but are ok because they allow more money to go to German pockets in interest payments; and these measures have led to many grievances, lots of poverty and effectively misery. So much for good brethren: siblings may hate each other but they would not let the other starve.
Wait a minute! I don't know to you, but to me this sounds pretty much like waging war and invading a country. You may think I am exaggerating but think of it: foreigners controlling policy and the general populace starving.

Lately there has been talk about a Spanish bailout. Spain is already bailing out its regions, but because it does not have any money, many say it is now time for Spain to seek a bailout from the EU. Like all rumours in this crisis, it will eventually be confirmed, probably sooner rather than later.
So, because I am in Spain right now and for the foreseeable future ([lack of] health obliges!), I am going to put forward a solution for Spain.
Even though a Spanish bailout would not carry as many conditions as the Greek, Irish and Portuguese bailouts, largely because Spain is so big it cannot be as bullied as those other small countries, it would certainly carry some further hardship conditions. And let us face it, it is not good for any country to have conditions dictated from overseas (realism anyone?).

So I say to Spain: declare a state of war. It does not matter to whom, it can even be to no one, or if that's not possible, declare war to an extinct country, or something. What matters is the state of war back home. Suddenly austerity would seem a must, and idiotic spending like tonight's Clásico would seem superfluous and be abolished. Instead of putting people to work on arms factories, the country could invest in itself, and get some unemployed (maybe an unemployed person per household) workers to fix the country. Infrastructure, nurture exports, etc.
Why should this work? Well, for two reasons. Firstly, because it would be temporary and given the circumstances, it would not change people's lives much. And secondly, because during that period, all superfluous spending would be cut. Think of the amount of money we could save if we slashed spending in, say, fireworks, parades, etc. Sports leagues could perhaps continue but caps on wages should be introduced, "to contribute to war effort". Yes, I know this would not work as footballers would simply move to another European country, but if it could be done Europe-wide, things would be different.
And yes, I am aware tourists would go elsewhere if we were at war, but to be fair, I am not too worried about this for a number of reasons. Firstly, we are seeing how Greece's tourism figures are plummeting, given its pseudo-war current situation. Many services are now offered in sterling due to uncertainty on the euro. Secondly, tourists are actually already going elsewhere and not to Spain, largely due to an increase in air and hotel taxes, which makes other sun destinations more attractive. Thirdly, because let's face it, Spain is not going to declare war on anybody.
And fourthly, because even if this were done, it could be done European-style. In other words, disguising it as stimulus, or as brotherly cooperation for the common betterment of the community, or some other long cheesy-sounding name like that. And then of course we would not technically be at war and tourists would still come, excited to see the exotism of this betterment which would ultimately involve more people starving while a small elite are cashing in all the money.

NB: I know this is silly, I know. But to be fair, what is currently being done about this is even more silly, so why should I be ashamed of speaking up?
We need some change and we need it now. I am not going to be typical and say 'cuts are bad', simply because sometimes they are necessary and even beneficial. But unless you do something else along with the cuts, you are shrinking output further, which in turn will lead to even more cuts because even less revenue will be collected. A Catch-22 situation which will be deadly for us pretty soon unless they try to do something to get out of it soon.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Al-Baraka (*)

Disclaimer: this is a rant and, as all good rants, it is personal. If you don't give a f*ck about me or about how I may feel, don't waste your time. There's much more interesting stuff in the blog if you scroll down.

I used to believe everything was down to effort and hard work, when it comes to our lives. I grew up in a capitalist state where I continuously got told "if you work hard enough, you'll eventually get there".

I'm not twenty yet, but I have already realised something important. It's all bollocks.

You need luck in order to do anything. Good luck, bad luck, neutral luck, whatever. I would like to believe in fate but I cannot bring myself to do it, for some reason I do not really know. But luck, that's a completely different thing. You do not need to believe in luck, but if it does not believe in you, you are screwed.

I will prove this talking about the example I feel I can talk most about. Me. (Yeah, this can be narcissistic and self-centered, but whatever, this is my blog after all, and today I feel like talking about this personal matter.)

Two and a half years ago my luck changed. Back then I thought it was changing to bad, but eventually I found out it was actually good luck.
What happened? Well, if you know me at all or you've followed the blog regularly you should know: after a chain of disastrous events linked to my life, I just could not cope with it all anymore and broke down. I was ill for over half a year and in bed for over three months. A whole winter.
Of course, when you are about to turn seventeen, spending three months in bed and using your late grandpa's cane to walk to the bathroom because you simply can't do it on your own would not be considered by hardly any as good luck.
But I do. This gave me an opportunity to change my life a little bit more (after all, there wasn't much more I could lose), and so I made that change.

But to make it, I needed something not everyone has, and I am very lucky for having that. My family and friends, and very especially of course, my parents, supported me. Even more, they actually trusted me. They understood my position and decided to let me go ahead without even knowing what I was getting into. I hardly had an idea but they knew nothing at all. They still decided to back me. If they hadn't, well, who knows!
For that, I am eternally grateful to them.

I worked hard. Really, really hard, and for about a school year I hardly had any life. It paid off, though!
My parents still supported me and all was going well. So I left and had the most amazing year in my life. I have been really lucky in meeting the people I have met at York and doing what I have done. I could feel unlucky because I did not get a place at Cambridge, but I cannot see it that way.

And now, this summer, my luck has changed again. You see, humans do not really value something unless they have been deprived of it at some point.
I have been deprived of good health practically since I was born.
There have been more, of course, but I am going to stay with the main episodes:
My mum was seven months pregnant when she gave birth to me, and I was born purple and dying from asphyxia. They rushed me to another hospital where I spent a week, the first few days docs did not know whether I was going to make it or not.
When I was three, I had a problem in my hip and I could not walk for a few months. Imagine being almost four and having to go to school sat in a pushchair. Not nice.
When I was eight, I passed out at school and woke up in hospital nine hours later (during this time, I'm told my eyes were open and I shouted, but I wouldn't react to any stimulus). To this day nobody knows why that happened. To be fair, of that time I just remember spending a week at hospital on holiday, sort of. I did not feel ill. So many tests for nothing, they did not find out a thing.
When I was nine, my allergy evolved to a serious asthmatic condition and for a while I would have to rush to hospital once in a while to get some oxygen for a few hours. Once I had this massive attack and stayed in hospital for a week. I received so many corticoids I couldn't walk for a few days after that. Once I went home I started taking medication, slowly reducing the dose from nearly a hundred puffs daily. I inflated like a balloon and for many years I did not lose that volume. (I haven't stopped taking chronic medication ever since.)
Then it all went well with me for a while, albeit important events in the family sort of aggravated the scenario, and by the time I turned twelve or so I was feeling so bad about myself I had to see a psychologist for about two years.
After this I had a few minor problems I don't want to bore you with, but basically I found myself in that episode I've told you about before, when I stayed in bed for three months.

And then, it all went well until two months ago. I have been diagnosed this rare illness. It has no cure. I basically know that whenever I am eating or drinking my throat can suddenly shut and if it is bad enough, I could just choke to death.
I am being given different medications, they seem to get me better for a few days but every other week I get an attack. There is no instant cure, but staying in bed for four or five days helps feeling better. Still, you never feel well and I am starting to doubt I will ever feel well.
The following have been removed from my diet: seafood, mustard, nuts, everything containing gluten (beer, pasta, bread, sweets, pretty much anything I like), and for the last few days, upon a doctor's advice, lactose.
This morning I have felt a cheater, as my breakfast was lactose free milk and some gluten free cornflakes and a gluten free cupcake.
I cannot eat meat unless it has been processed before (in the form of a burger or a sausage) and I add some sauce to it. I cannot eat many kinds of fish. I cannot eat some kinds of veg, and I must be very careful with fruits. Effectively there are so many I cannot it. I certainly cannot eat a sandwich, even if it is gluten free bread, as I just can't swallow it. I can hardly eat out as I need huge amounts of water to eat absolutely everything, to make it slightly better, and because of the massive amount of stuff I cannot eat, it's actually better if I just eat at home.
And I need to take some corticoids. Oh, and Omeprazole, twice daily, for as long as I live. This helps with the reflux, but I can't get rid of it even taking the maximum dosage of Omeprazole advised for an adult.
Knowing that, even if I do all this, I can have an attack whenever, and there is nothing I can do about it. If it is serious, I can go to hospital and get some methylprednisolone administered, but all that helps is getting in bed, relaxing, drinking water in small sips and hardly eating. But there is no cure and no known 100% effective treatment. The illness is just so know we know nothing about it. Docs know Omeprazole usually helps patients with eosinophilic oesophagitis (yeah, I know the name sounds scary!), but they don't know why.

I have a flight to England in a week and I still do not know whether I will be able to catch it. I may have to stay here a few more weeks, perhaps I may have to take a year out.
I have the brains (well, sort of!) and luckily I have the financial means to do it, but my health just isn't helping. I cannot plan like everyone else because my ultimate goal in life right now is not having an attack in the middle of a seminar, a flight, or even a night out. I live in awe and I have felt on the edge of giving up a few times these weeks. As in, actually giving up, retiring somewhere or just staying in bed awaiting an attack.
I am pretty positive I do not deserve this, but this has been given to me and I have to cope with it.
I want to go to England. Not only because I actually miss my life as a Yorkie but because EO is related to allergy, and usually I feel better allergy-wise in England than I do back in Barcelona.
But at the same time I am scared, and exhausted. I am tiring of fighting this every hour of every day, feeling relegated to watching TV series online and writing once in a while in this blog when I feel well enough.

I just wanted to share this as an encouragement. Not only value your luck in other aspects of your life (finances, brains, success with girls/boys, etc.), but value the most what matter the most: your health. You are very lucky to be healthy, to be able to go out, to make plans, to do stuff, to not feel left out because you actually want to do lots of stuff but you simply can't do it unless you're in front of a laptop, because that's about as far as you can get: to a laptop in your bed.

My family and some friends are really helping me through this. They are really trying and sometimes not succeeding. They make me forget about all this for a while, perhaps, but when I'm in the middle of an attack, I just feel alone. I have actually asked a few times to be put under sedation. My lungs are not compromised when I have an attack, and I do not want to feel like that anymore.
No one seems to understand sometimes it's better not being here (somehow, sedation is not being here) than being here in whatever way. There seems to be an obsession with living no matter what, no matter how badly, and sometimes, when you can't do any of the things you actually want to fight for, anything you actually really want to do; when this happens, I think it's better not being here at all.
This obviously gets everyone angry, when I say it, starting by my parents, because it sounds a bit too suicidal. But I don't think it is.

I actually want to fight. And I'm fighting, and I'll carry on fighting, but I need some hope. If this does not get better soon, I don't think I'll be able to ever go out again, or take up a job, or go to lectures every day, or to the gym, or pretty much anywhere. And if that happens, what do I do? I force myself to do what I want to do, when I simply can't do it; or I crawl back to bed and accept I won't be able to do anything in life?
Neither sound good to me.

Moral of the story rant: live every day as if it were your last. I started doing this after my months in bed, I learnt to do it, and it really pays off. Especially when a couple of years later here you go again.
Maybe I feel better in a few weeks or a few months and I can learn from this as well. Maybe not.
That's why I'm still not going to say whether being diagnosed with EO is good luck or bad luck. Because I don't know. Yet.

*Baraka (البركة) is the Islamic concept for a flow of luck/beneficence coming directly from God/the higher power. It can be used as luck, in a metaphysical sense, and like the Jewish berachah (הברכה), it comes from the Hebrew Baruch (ברוך). Barack Obama's name comes from this same Semitic root.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Catalonia: a neutral analysis

Disclaimer: My English is far from perfect, and very rusty as I've hardly used it these last months.

OK. Last year I said I was not going to be involved in Spanish/Catalan politics again. I do not feel I have a say anymore in stuff going on here. After all, this is no longer my legal residence.
Anyway, due to the massive demo that happened a couple of days ago in favour of Catalan independence, in the National Day of Catalonia, and everything I've seen take place surrounding the demo, I have felt compelled to speak up. This time, however, I will (try to) do so as an 'observer', instead of as someone affected by it.
A couple of years ago I was absolutely against independence. As in, anything remotely similar to it I disliked. This has changed, though. I am more of a neutral person now. I feel both Catalan and Spanish, as I did before, but now, because I don't live neither in Catalonia nor in Spain, who cares?

I do. I care because I love my land. I would not live here for the world, but this is home and I love it. Which is why I am trying to analyse whether independence would bring good or bad to Catalonia. Of course, I am not going to say what Catalonia has right now is good. That would be an outrageous biased lie. All I want to do is establish the lesser evil.
In doing so, I have arrived to a conclusion. Independence might be favourable, a greater degree of self-government is certainly a must, but it cannot be done this way.
If it is done this way, all Catalonia will get will be a divided, sectarian society. To some extent, sectarianism is now stronger than it used to be, that is for sure, but I don't want to be so naïve as to say "all past times were better". Anyhow, since the crisis began, support for independence has been growing, and right now, at this point, it is not known which part of society (secessionists or unionists) would win a possible referendum. This is a remarkable achievement for secessionists because until a few months ago they were clearly a minority. A very big and important minority, but a minority nevertheless.
The thing is, and this is very important because it is perhaps the only thing in which all Catalans agree, they are tired with the current political climate and they want it to change. Secessionists want Catalonia to become independent, and they are certainly succeeding in their propaganda as very senior figures in the Catalan political arena are vouching their support for the cause of independence. These include Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia. His party was pro-Catalan but not pro-independence. Until last year, that is, when it went further and added full Catalan sovereignty to its manifesto. Unionists, or rather, all not in favour of secession (they must not necessarily be unionists), on the contrary, want Catalonia to stay in Spain. Some, albeit these are very few, want the Spanish government to step in and rule Catalonia directly. Some others want it to stay the way it is, and some others want a greater degree of devolution, perhaps a Catalonia within a Spanish federal framework.
A few years ago this division was not so. A minority wanted independence, a minority wanted Spain to have greater a say in Catalan affairs, but a very important chunk of the population simply did not care. They did not know what could be best, so they actually did not care.
Right now, in the current option, not caring is not an option. If someone does not care, they will be accused by secessionists of being a unionist and by unionists of agreeing with the secessionists. Propaganda campaigns are being more massive than ever, on both sides. This is obviously leading to a polarisation of public opinion. In politics ignorance is not bliss, or at least it should not be. But it seems it is starting to be, and very ignorant people who have no idea of what they are talking about took part in Tuesday's demos. Both on the massive pro-independence demo in Barcelona but also in the smaller anti-independence demos that happened in many town hall squares all over the country. Politics is fought on secession/union issues and not on left/right issues anymore.
This leads to a 'you are either with me or against me' climate all over the place. In other words, there is no longer such a thing as a Catalan society. Secessionists' view is "you cannot possibly be a good Catalan if you don't hate the Spaniards/don't want them to leave/you feel Spanish". Unionists' view is "you cannot possibly be a good Spaniard if you feel Catalan, because they're a bunch of angry people demanding the break-up of the great Spanish state". I know this sounds a bit extremist, but Catalan people are slowly moving towards these two poles. The only thing all Catalans agree in is that the current state, the status quo, is terrible and must be changed.
Now, let's assume, for the sake of analysis, that a referendum is held (I cannot possibly accept another way of achieving independence, such as declaring it outright, as some parties suggest). What would the result be? Well, technically, I do not care. It would not at all matter whether more people voted for independence than for union or vice versa. What is clear is that such result, no matter to which end it swings, would be tight. Which in turns leads us to assume a very large proportion of Catalans (whether or not they are Spanish passport holders) would be unhappy with the result. In the worst-case scenario, riots would happen and a police intervention might be needed. Maybe the army. In the best-case scenario, there would be unrest and uncertainty about the future. Many would leave: if union is outvoted by secession, some would leave because they do not want to leave Spain. If secession is outvoted by union, some would leave because it seems logical Spanish would rule Catalonia tighter in such an event and they would not want to live in such a place. In both cases, many would leave because it is quite obvious that political unrest would be greater, and many people just want to live quiet lives with no place for such unrest.
No matter what happens, then, it is quite clear that current paths to political change lead to sectarianism. I should think anyone accepting a political change as big as this ignoring the break-up of its society is a fool. Secessionists and unionists alike.

Catalan identity has been largely created in the last 150 years. Before that, Catalans used to be Aragonese, French or Spanish. Catalan was obviously the language of the land, but French or Spanish were used as fashionable languages by the elites, since the late Middle Ages. This all changed in the late 19th century, though. Modernism heavily changed Catalan society, made it more cosmopolitan, and Catalan identity and language started to be entrenched. It is during this period when a Catalan standardised ortography is created by Pompeu Fabra, and when sardana, the national Catalan dance, is created by Pep Ventura, unifying different popular dances across the territory. During the Second Republic period the largely autonomous Commonwealth of Catalonia is declared, but it all disappears after the Civil War. Francoist Spain was based in the ideal of a New Spain, whose motto was "One, Great and Free". It wasn't free at all and it wasn't that great, but sure as hell it was one. All languages other than Spanish were outlawed, regions were suppressed and a centralist almighty government was established.
This is largely to blame for today's current political climate. During the Transition (this being the period between Franco's death and the establishment of democracy) power was transferred back to the regions. First, to the regions who had pre-war power and historical reasons to claim some degree of self-rule. Among these, the Basque Country and Catalonia. But later it was decided that all Spaniards should be equal like the French, and the Coffee for all policy. Autonomous communities were created out of the blue, given anthems, statutes and legal powers, for the simple reason that other regions had them as well. Some say the Spanish system ressembles a federal system, but I don't think it does. In a federal system divisions decide to unite their sovereignty to suit the interests of all. In the Spanish system, however, a united sovereignty decides to create divisions to suit the interests of the central government. Spain has always liked doing things shabbily.
For a couple of decades it all went well, but it obviously could not work well. For a number of reasons.
Firstly, artificially created identities hardly ever work. At least, when they are so similar to one another.
Secondly, many institutions were doubled and even trebled. Much, much, much money being wasted for no reason.
Thirdly, nationalities with historical rights think they have a right to claim more. They do not want artificial identities to claim the same rights as them, so if the others are given these rights, they will claim more.

In the case of Catalonia, the trigger was probably pulled when the new Statute of Autonomy was drafted in the mid-2000s. It probably sought too much for what it could have got that day. People were outraged. Secessionist Catalans because it was too little, unionist Catalans because it was too much, and non-Catalan Spaniards because it definitely violated the Spanish Constitution. And bang, hatred started.  Secessionists started hating Spain because they felt oppressed. And Spaniards started hating Catalans because they felt they were asking for too much, so they boycotted their products and anti-Catalan propaganda started to become common. Anti-secessionist Catalans, by then a majority, found themselves in the middle of this: accused by both sides, they obviously started to change. It would be foolish for a Catalan to agree to a Catalan boycott (even though some did!), so more and more Catalans started to back independence, or at least moved their opinions in this direction.
This has been growing over the years, and aggravated of course by the current economic climate. The BBC covers this, worringly enough placing the news in its Africa section, but nonetheless explaining the economy-driven support for secession.
Secessionists argue that Spain is stealing Catalonia's money, unionists argue that way too much money is wasted in secessionist propaganda and doubled institutions. Ironically enough, both are right. Catalonia is definitely fiscally mistreated by Spain, and at the same time a big part of Catalonia's deficit (which has existed for a long way before the crisis) is caused by doubled institutions and costs of self-government which could be avoided, or at least, re-structured.

This all looks very messed up. Some might say there is no possible solution to this, given the circumstances, but the idealist in me tells me a solution is possible. Of course, this would require compromise, and Catalans and Spaniards alike have always had a remarkably disliking for anything smelling to the slightest compromise with anyone else.

In one scenario, things are done like they have been done until this point: badly. Propaganda is ever more widely used as a political weapon, and more and more people are convinced to align with the secessionists. When the secessionist elite feels there is enough support, it will lobby for a referendum. A referendum is won, and the cogs in the independence machinery are switched on. This would pose many problems, as secession is currently considered unconstitutional. But I am sure something would be done about it, if an adequate amount of pressure through lobbying is exerted.
I believe this would bring about more harm than good. I want to particularly point out two ways in which Catalonia would be harmed.
The first way is what I've said before, about sectarianism and a broken up society. Civil unrest, many fleeing the newly-established country, etc. This is definitely bad, and it would definitely happen. Catalans with different independence views have hardly any will to unite, and independence would definitely not change this. Many unionists would leave, fearing a life as second-class citizens or some sort of discrimination. Many secessionists have argued an independent Catalonia would be open to all Catalans, and I will not put this in doubt, but also undoubtedly some citizens would fear of this and, as a majority of Catalans have relatives elsewhere in Spain, quite a few of them would leave.
And, more importantly, the second one, would be related to the European Union. Even though Brussels officials have stated secessionist movements within a member country are none of their business, the European Commission has already interpreted European law and said a possible seceded Catalonia would stay out of the EU. This is very important. The EU has brought about many, many benefits, and I would say no Catalan can say they have not benefitted from being part of the EU. But if it is chucked out, the Catalan economy would be destroyed. EU-wide common external tariffs would probably affect Catalonia, and if it could establish itself in a position similar to Norway, it would not have any EU subsidies nor any say in EU policy, whilst it would definitely have to abide it.
Secessionists foolishly say accession could then be negotiated. Of course it could be negotiated. But this also poses problems: time and support. Time, because all things being well, negotiations would take at least 5 years. In the middle of so huge an economic catastrophe as we are now, this would be absolutely disastrous. And support, because new member states must be approved unanimously. Germany would not probably support Catalonia (a weaker Catalonia and a weaker Spain are not in Germany's interests). There are also reasons to believe France and the UK would not support Catalonia either, to discourage their home secessionist movements from trying to follow Catalonia's path.
It might happen, Catalonia staying in the EU and there not being problems, but common sense tells us this is not really bound to happen. In market eyes, both Catalonia and Spain would be weaker, and in the current situation this would be disastrous for both.

In a second, less-likely scenario, propaganda finally turns the tide in favour of the unionists. It would be foolish to assume the status quo would be respected. The Spanish government would definitely want to avoid this happening again. Perhaps it would not go as far as going back to Francoist prohibitions, but it would definitely mean less autonomy for Catalonia. All further attempts to achieve greater autonomy would be interpreted as secessionist and consequently crushed. Catalans have worked very hard to achieve the good bits of Catalonia's current status, and it should definitely not be lost. The rest of Spain should therefore be worried about Catalonia right now, because less autonomy for Catalonia would probably mean less autonomy for all other regions in the country.

In other words, no matter what happens, both Catalonia and Spain are to come out of it worse off. So what can it be done about it?
I do not like being pessimistic, and I think there is a way out. It is obviously hard, of course, and it will probably take longer than a few years, but it can be done.

Firstly, right now Catalans and Spaniards alike should put all their efforts in uniting to get out of this economic situation. Catalonia demanding €5bn from the Spanish government is a short-term solution, but enough to delegitimate Catalonia's secessionist claims, in Spanish eyes.
So they should leave secessionist and hate politics aside and focus on getting out of this. Both sides would have to make concessions, and this is not really bound to happen. But dreams are free, aren't they?
Secondly, once Catalonia is out of the danger zone, economically, it should claim from Spain a greater degree of autonomy. A fiscal pact so Catalonia can administer its own money would be a perfect way of starting this process. Maybe establishing a federal Spain with Catalonia being a federated state within Spain would be beneficial, but this would of course take negotiations and debates. And time.
Thirdly, something which no one likes should be done. Waiting. A few years of waiting should occur, and see how the new, more autonomous system is working out for Catalonia. Propaganda should be discouraged on both sides, as waiting cannot be tied to civil unrest.
Next, if a federation seems to be working just fine but Catalans still want more, then and only then talks for independence should begin. It would take compromise from both Spain and the Catalans to negotiate secession terms with Brussels, of course, as everything should be crystal clear before proceeding with the last step.
The fifth and last step would be a referendum. It is foolish to even consider declaring independence without respecting the people's will and mandate. Whether this referendum would involve only Catalonia, also the rest of Spain or also Brussels would have to be established then. Personally I think Spain should have a say in it, for it to be legitimate, but it should be up to the Catalans to determine what passport they want to hold.
If the referendum result was no, then the federation could be preserved. If the result said yes, then guarantees should be made for civil liberties by both sides. As I see it, Catalans should be able to preserve both citizenships, and all Spaniards who decided to move to Catalonia or had links with Catalonia should be given Catalan citizenship too. At least at first, both Catalan and Spanish should be kept official languages, or at the very least, the right to express oneself in Spanish should be respected.

But of course this is all too theoretical and perhaps utopic.
All I know, as a Catalan and a Spaniard who loves his land, is that if Catalonia and Spain continue in this path, things are going to end very, very badly for all of us. And I would not like seeing my land shattered by ignorance and ignorance-led hatred. If Catalans do not unite for more than an agreement to hate each other, it does not matter whether we are self-ruled, or ruled by Spain or by Germany.