Archive for the ‘Original Thought’ Category

The Republican Party is wrong for America in the 21st century

December 3, 2017 Leave a comment


“We don’t think that was my voice.”

November 30, 2017 Leave a comment

“Make America Prevaricate Again” copyright 2017 Justin Bass

November 26, 2017 Leave a comment

“I should have left them in jail!”

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

“I should have left them in jail!” also applicable after ’s fraudulent presidency ends and he pardons his ungrateful cohorts. @J3BOh

Categories: Original Thought

Catalan Independence: It’s about the Economy, but it’s also very personal

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Catalan Independence: It’s about the Economy, but it’s also very personal

By Justin Bass

November 18, 2017

On Saturday, November 11, 2017, almost a million people gathered on and near the busy Barcelona street of Carrer de la Marina to protest the Spanish government incarcerating eight elected representatives of the Catalan government. The pro-Independence crowds blocked cars on the thoroughfare that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gaudi-inspired and still unfinished Sagrada Familia church from about 5 in the afternoon to many hours later into the night. They waved hundreds of Catalan flags and many people wore Catalan flags as capes. They held up their flash-lit phones into the air to make a tapestry of stars for the viewing pleasure of the pilot in the patrolling helicopter above. They clapped their hands in unison and chanted Freedom in Catalan – “Llibertat, Llibertat, Llibertat” – in the same cadence that Americans chant “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.” They formed a drum circle at the main intersection at Marina and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, and they danced to their own rhythms.

It’s been over a month since more than 2 million Catalans, or 90 percent of those who voted, approved Independence from Spain on Sunday, the 1st of October 2017, known as 1-O. It’s the date, of course, but it also looks like a soccer score: 1-O. On October 1st, FC Barcelona, the local powerhouse soccer team with superstar Lionel Messi, publicly declared its support for the pro-Independence movement, and then the team played a match against the Spanish club, Las Palmas, with all of the stadium’s 99,354 seats empty for security precautions. The players from Las Palmas wore the Spanish flag as an addition to their uniforms that Sunday. FC Barcelona is now considering a move from the Spanish soccer league to the English Premier League if Catalonia achieves Independence from Spain.

The pro-Independence Catalans consider the 1-O referendum as a win for their cause. However, a Spanish court ruled the Independence vote illegal from the beginning. On the Sunday of the voting, Spanish police dressed in riot gear came to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, to confiscate ballot boxes and voting paperwork. There were multiple videos on social media and on TV showing Spanish police using their official-issue sticks to strike the heads and bodies of voters. Spanish police also brutalized people trying to vote by throwing them down to the ground.

The President of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, issued a declaration of unilateral independence (DUI) on October 11th, and then he immediately suspended the DUI to have dialogue with the Spanish government, he said. Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain, demanded that Puigdemont clarify if he did or did not declare Independence. When no clarification came, Rajoy got the votes from the Spanish Parliament to enact Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution (created in 1978 after the death of the dictator, Francisco Franco, in 1975), which allows Spain to take control of any region that does not fulfill its duties. Spain also jailed Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, two of the leading organizers of the Catalan Independence vote on October 1st. On the night of October 17th, tens of thousands of Barcelona residents protested the imprisonment of the Jordis by organizing a candlelight vigil at the upscale intersection of Passeig de Gràcia and Diagonal (where you can buy a Tesla electric sports car and a Versace dress).

In response to the threat of 155, on Friday, October 27th, the Catalan Parliament approved Independence from Spain and President Puigdemont officially declared Catalonia as its own country. The TV cameras recorded many pro-Independence Catalans weeping for joy in the streets. That same night Spain took over Catalonia. The mood in the city of Barcelona soured. Rajoy dissolved the Catalan government and called for new local elections on December 21st, which also happens to be the Winter Solstice, the day that marks the increasing hours of sunlight on Earth until the apex of the Summer Solstice on June 21st.

Sometime over the weekend of October 28-29th, Puigdemont flew to Brussels, Belgium where he was joined by four of his fellow members of the Catalan government. They appealed to the Belgian courts and by extension the European Union to intercede on their behalf and protect them from prison. In the subsequent weeks, Spain jailed eight other members of the Catalan government, including Vice President, Oriol Junqueras, on charges of sedition, and ordered President Puigdemont to appear at the Spanish Parliament in Madrid. When Puigdemont did not comply, but rather stayed put in Brussels, the Spanish government issued a warrant for Puigdemont’s arrest. President Puigdemont and his fellow members of the Catalan government then turned themselves into the Belgian police.

In order to get out of jail, the Speaker of the Catalan government, Carme Forcadell, posted a €150,000 bail and she agreed not to participate in any activity against Spain, which rules her out for the election on December 21st. President Puigdemont and his four compatriots are still in Brussels. The eight incarcerated members of the Catalan government remain in Spanish custody.

That’s why on a Saturday night, instead of going out for a family dinner, playing pétanque (the French version of bocce) at the park, or having drinks at a café with friends, approximately 750,000 pro-Independence Catalans manifested their objection to having their elected political leaders imprisoned.

Alaura Alcoverro, 21, who studies at university, stood by the protest waiting for her friends. “I don’t feel Spanish. I think I have a different culture, different language, of course,” she said. “Flamenco, it’s not a Catalan thing.” However, Ms. Alcoverro does enjoy paella, a Spanish dish made of spicy rice & vegetables (with meat or not). “I love it,” she said about the somewhat controversial food.

“We cook apple crumble and we cook Indian food. We cook everything. So why not paella, if it’s nice. Because it’s not called paella in our house,” said the pediatrician, Dr. Gemma Talló, 47, who sat on a bench with her mother and father right next to the stream of pro-Independence Catalans that Saturday night.  “We call it rice. We do fish-rice. It doesn’t have to be Valencian paella. It doesn’t have to be Spanish omelet. We don’t call it Spanish omelet. We call it the patatas, the potato omelet.”

Dr. Talló said she stayed up all night at a school the night before 1-O to ensure that it would be used for voting and then she helped to tally the overwhelming votes for Independence well into the night. She said the computers were hacked, so it took longer to count the votes.

“It’s a long-standing problem. Why now? It’s an ancient problem. This is a historical problem,” Dr. Talló continued. “As my parents always say, it’s not only the suppression, the repression. The Spanish government is very subtle. They just keep cutting and cutting and cutting more things, like the solar energy. We’re not allowed to use the energy of the Sun. Because the government is earning lots of money from the other energy.”

The Catalan government and the Catalan people voted for pro-solar energy reforms in 2006, but the Spanish government denied the vote, according to Dr. Talló.

Dr. Gemma Talló (right) with her parents

“If you use your own solar [panels], you have to pay. You have to pay to buy them and also to use them. The free electricity is not free here anymore,” said Helena, 36, (she did not want to give her last name), who works as a scientist and who attended the Saturday night protest with her husband, their two children, and her friend.  “I don’t like things that are happening in Spain, such as we have a King and Mariano Rajoy in the government. I need a new country. The fact that we can’t change laws from 40 years ago. This old way of living, I don’t like this country.” She also complained about having to protect her children and run from the Spanish police when she was trying to vote on 1-O.

Spain, as a country, and Barcelona, as a city, are renowned as sunny vacation destinations. The Spanish people like to use the good weather as an excuse to party or to relax as much as possible, many people in Barcelona will claim while making the distinction that they work long hours only to give away much of the taxes to other parts of Spain. Barcelona is a wealthy port town and tourist haven that contributes about 20 percent to the approximately €1 Trillion Spanish economy, the fifth largest among the European Union member countries, according to Eurostat, “the statistical office of the European Union.” Yet the train system outside of Catalonia gets the investment in high-speed rail for the most part, while the cities in Catalonia are forced to use older train cars.

“We need better infrastructure. Spain is now building a lot of busy-bee railroads to a lot of places in Spain. There is no need to take high-speed trains to some places. It’s a waste of money,” said Jordi Fernandez, 60, a pensioner who attended the Saturday protest with his wife. “We need [better] trains between Mataró and Barcelona, or Sitges or Manresa, or around Barcelona.”

Jordi Fernandez

Although there is a new high-speed train from Barcelona to Girona, the two major cities in Catalonia, almost all train trips from Barcelona to other major cities in Spain require a stop in the capital of Madrid before connecting to the final destination.

“We need a high-speed train linking all the Mediterranean. We want to develop our country. We want to be our owners. We are proud of our country. We want to show the world. Spain is like an anchor. They don’t want that we can grow,” said Pep Mallol, 49, a computer programmer, who came to the protest from the Catalonian city of Sabadell with his wife, daughter, and their family friend. “Also we are hard workers, people who think in the future. New technology, to be involved in the technology. We can’t be in the same packet as siesta todos, paella, we don’t feel like that.”

Siesta is the Spanish tradition of a long lunch from about 2 to 5 pm during the workweek, Monday to Friday. The practice of siesta started centuries ago to take a break from the hot, sunny afternoons in Spain, but it was reinforced after the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and throughout Franco’s nearly 40 years of ruling the country when the Catalan language was officially banned.

“In my house, my children, my wife and me, we are waking up at 6:30 and we don’t stop until 7:30 in the afternoon. Let’s say, we don’t know siesta,” Mr. Mallol emphasized. “It’s only party, no we don’t feel like that.”

Pep Mallol (left) with his wife, daughter, and friend.

The Great Recession that hit the United States hard in 2007 and dragged on into the 20-teens hit Spain even harder. Spanish unemployment “peaked at 26 percent” due to “its real estate investment bubble, combined with the global financial crisis,” according to a report from The New York Times on July 28, 2017. In October 2017, Spain’s unemployment rate was 16.38 percent, “its lowest since 2008,” according to a report from Reuters this November 3rd. However, the Spanish youth unemployment rate (for those under 25 years of age) is still at Depression levels: 37.2 percent in September 2017, according to Eurostat. Spain’s youth unemployment reached a record 56.1 percent in 2013, according to reporting from the UK Guardian on August 30, 2013.

After 1-O, many companies moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other parts of Spain, including the #3 and #5 biggest banks in the country, CaixaBank and Sabadell Bank, respectively, as well as Gas Natural, the utility company.

“Suddenly a lot of companies have moved. They [Spain] have facilitated the way to move. Maybe there are some pressures that if you continue working in Catalonia you won’t work anymore in Spain,” surmised Helena, the scientist and mother of two. “But there are also other voices saying that a lot of companies want to move to Catalonia once it separates from Spain.”

The renewable energy sector, of which the solar electricity industry makes up a large portion, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States economy.

“Solar and wind jobs have grown at rates of about 20% annually in recent years and are each creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than that of the rest of the U.S. economy,” reads a January 2017 report from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Maybe if Spain incentivizes rather than discourages the use of its overabundant solar energy, then the country can create good-paying jobs for the unemployed Spanish workers and accelerate its lagging economy. Or maybe Catalonia will achieve its Independence and rejuvenate its own economy by using the Sun to create good-paying jobs for unemployed Catalan workers.

For perspective, there have been two pro-Spanish-only rallies in Barcelona during the month of October, on separate Sundays. They are not Spanish-unity gatherings as many news outlets have reported. Unlike the feel-good, festival vibe of the Catalans at their pro-Independence protests, the pro-Spanish-only protesters are antagonistic and hyper-aggressive. Spanish-only protesters have kicked or pushed people taking their photographs in public. On Sunday, October 29th, the people wearing and waving Spanish flags banged on the police vans of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Barcelona’s police force, right outside of the Catalan government’s office building and palace façade, called the Generalitat. The pro-Spanish-only people called the Mossos police “perros”/dogs and forced the police vans to drive in reverse away from the Generalitat. The Catalan police did not use violence against the pro-Spanish-only crowd.

Conversely, on 1-O, the Spanish police used violence and drove into the crowds. After Spanish police used rubber bullets and batons to injure Barcelona residents trying to vote in the neighborhood near the intersection of Marina and Gran Via, dozens of Barcelona residents chased the Spanish police vans down Marina. There were many reporters with video cameras on the scene, which probably de-escalated the ensuing altercation. Spanish police in riot gear with batons in their hands approached the Barcelona residents impeding the movement of the Spanish police vans. The first van in the line of five vans drove slowly forward through the crowd. Then the van in front stopped when many people in front of the van yelled. A moment later the first Spanish police van drove forward again and sped away. All of the other Spanish vans followed. In the aftermath, one man limped to the side of the street because the first Spanish police van drove into his knee.

Buildings all over Barcelona are festooned with flags, both Catalan and Spanish. The city is divided. About half of Barcelona residents want Independence and the other half want to stay a part of Spain, because they want to stay in the European Union. If Catalonia becomes its own country, it would have to apply for European Union membership, which requires a unanimous vote from the existing member countries, including Spain. However, if it does achieve Independence, Catalonia could apply for a special permit to trade with European Union countries and continue to use the Euro as its currency.

Sagrada Familia Catalan Flag

Sagrada Familia with Catalan Flag on National Day of Catalonia, September 11, 2017


Gaudi building Catalan flag

Gaudi-designed apartment building in Barcelona with Catalan Flag on National Day of Catalonia, September 11, 2017

Catalan Flag 1

Apartment building in Barcelona with Catalan flags

Apartment building in Barcelona with Spanish and Catalan flags

For now, the pro-Independence Catalans are protesting Spanish hegemony in the streets of Barcelona and they are speaking freely.

“It looks like we are in a fascist country,” said Alejandro Elsehimihinga, 24, a cabin crewmember for an airline, who attended the Saturday protest with his friend. “The Catalonian flag or even the laws were created before the Spanish laws or flag, but we have always been forbidden, we have always been forgotten. Every time when the Catalonian people try to make their voice like loud, they [the Spanish government] always try to cut us. So it makes me feel like, try to be stronger, be more proud to be Catalan, and fight for these rights.”

Mr. Elsehimihinga said he plans to vote for Carles Puigdemont as President of Catalonia on December 21st.

“I’m not against Spanish people,” he added. “Because I have a lot of Spanish friends, but I mean Spanish politicians are corrupt.”

Alejandro Elsehimihinga (left) with his friend

Fande = Fact & Evidence; Cande = Conjecture & Exaggeration

Bring your Fande, leave your Cande!


For lagniappe…

Catalan Independence Day 1

By Justin Bass

October 1, 2017

The people of Catalunya defied the obstruction of the Spanish government and its police force by voting for their Independence on Sunday, October 1, 2017. Barcelona is the capital of the economically powerful Mediterranean port city in the northeastern region of Spain where the natives prefer to speak their own language, Catalan, and to practice their own customs, which differ from those in Madrid.

As early as 5 am, Catalans lined up outside of Escola Ramon Llull, a prominent school in Barcelona’s Monumental neighborhood, to cast their ballots when the voting started at 9 am. But the Spanish police, on orders from Madrid, confiscated the voting paperwork.

“There are ten thousand police, most of them secret. We closed the school because they already took the ballots. People were voting and then they took them away,” explained Jaume Cabaní Massip, a representative of the Barcelona government who was helping at the school that was turned into a voting station.

A Spanish police helicopter patrolled from above as Spanish police wearing black riot gear drove multiple dark-blue vans down one of the main thoroughfares, Marina Street, in front of the old bullfighting arena that has been closed now for five years since Catalans outlawed the bloody, spectacle sport. Barcelona is proud of doing things differently from the rest of Spain, where bullfighting is still in practice.

Dozens of protesters followed the Spanish police vans, marked with the red and yellow stripes of the Spanish flag, and chanted at their oppressors who had just stopped them from voting. Some people yelled obscenities. Neighbors living in high-rise apartments banged their pots and pans in support of Independence and the protesters below. The police on foot pushed protesters out of the way when the crowd impeded the movement of the vans. One police van drove slowly into a portion of the protesters and injured a man’s leg. He stood next to one of the many palm trees lining the street massaging his knee and wiping tears away from his face as his friend consoled him.

“Of course then people were not happy to let the police vans leave without some interruption. So that’s what we were doing. We were just making it known to them that we are the teachers, we are the nurses of their families, we have families ourselves,” said Helena Miguélez-Carballeira, senior lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Bangor University in Wales. “I have come here to be with the Catalan people and show my support and my solidarity.”

Just a few blocks over, police used more violent measures to control the throngs of protesters.

“They took the boxes to vote from the school there and we tried to stop the baggage with all the policemen, and they just started hitting everyone and shooting bullets of rubber,” described Miriam Latasa, an IT professional. “I’m just sad to live in a world, or in a country, that lets this happen. The oppression, everything that is going on, I mean we are in 2017. It does not make any sense. We just want to vote, and using such violence is nonsense.”

Nearby, a medic dabbed the bloody head wound of a man sitting on the back of an ambulance just as another injured man was swiftly carried on a stretcher toward the same ambulance. Journalists and photographers swarmed into the scene.

Members of foreign governments and the European Union, who came to Barcelona to witness the Independence vote, stood on the street near the school.

“It’s a pity that we have to observe this,” decried Rita Bellens, a representative of the Belgian Parliament. “I’ve been to other countries because I am also a member of OSCE parliamentarians. And I’ve gone to a few observations in Russia. With the election of president we didn’t see these kinds of things. This is worse than Russia, isn’t it?”

Ms. Bellens was standing on the street next to Mark Demesmaeker, Belgian member of the European Union. “This is a shame for the European Union,” Mr. Demesmaeker said. “A political issue should be solved with political dialogue. Not in the courts. It’s the job of politicians, not of judges, not of police.”

The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, and the Spanish courts declared the vote for Independence illegal. This is the second time that Barcelona has organized a vote to gain sovereignty. In 2014, the capital voted 80 percent in favor of Independence, but only approximately 2 million of the 5.4 million people living in the region of Barcelona voted. It was a non-binding vote and Madrid cited the low voter turnout as a reason to disregard the outcome.

This time approximately 2 million people of the more than 7 million eligible voters in all of Catalunya voted. Despite the intimidation from the Spanish police, or because of it, 90 percent of Catalans voted in favor of Independence. Videos circulated on social media depicting the central government’s police swinging freely with their clubs to hit men and women, young and old, all over Barcelona, from the beach to the hills. It still remains to be seen if the region will successfully secede from Spain to establish its own economy and borders.

Barcelona’s residents have been clamoring for weeks just to be able to vote. Every night, at 10 o’clock on the dot, neighbors in support of Catalan Independence continue to bang their pots and pans. They have been doing this for more than three weeks. The nighttime noise begins slowly as one person starts a steady percussive beat, and then dozens of neighbors join in. They stand on their balconies and at their open windows clanking their kitchenware until the cacophony grows louder and louder. Usually at the 15-minute mark, the ruckus subsides and sometimes finishes with an explosion from a firecracker. But not on Sunday night when the people were still waiting for a result from the vote count. In the Gothic Quarter, where Barcelona’s medieval prowess as a shipping center is still felt in the centuries’ old buildings and where the Romans once ruled, the residents rattled the night from their balconies for almost a half hour.

There are many Catalans and residents of the area who want to stay a part of Spain and who wear the Spanish flag or display its colors to make their opinions known. Barcelona is a very progressive place that allows conflicting viewpoints to coexist peacefully. Last week, the pro-Independence students from Barcelona University took over one of the administration buildings in protest. Thousands of Catalans paraded in the streets wearing the Catalan flag every day since National Day of Catalunya on September 11, which commemorates the day that the armed forces of Philip V of Spain took control of Barcelona in 1714. Catalans celebrate this day in defiance of their Spanish rulers.

So when the Spanish police shut down one school for voting, the Catalans simply walked five blocks to Escola Fort Pienc, another school set up for the Independence vote.

Hundreds of Catalans queued up to vote and hundreds more waited after they had voted. Every time the voters exited the school all of the people in the crowd cheered and applauded with joyous clapping of hands.

One man who voted held up two fingers in the shape of the letter “V” for victory. It was a symbolic gesture that mirrored the sentiment Ms. Miguélez-Carballeira, the university lecturer, shared with me earlier. “We have already won,” she said.

Catalan Independence Day 3

By Justin Bass

October 3, 2017

Today, Tuesday, October 3, 2017, there is a general strike in the Catalan capital of Barcelona to rebuke the violence of the Spanish police during Sunday’s vote for Independence, organized by the Catalan government and deemed illegal by the central government in Madrid.

Using clubs and guns firing rubber bullets, the police from Madrid bloodied and brutalized many of the people of Barcelona trying to vote. Scenes of Spanish police in riot gear violently beating defenseless men and women circulated on social media. Videos of men and women later being treated for bloody head wounds were on the TV and the internet.

At a school for voting in the hills, Spanish police threw people, including a gray-haired man, down to the ground. At the beach, one Spanish policeman used two hands on his official-issue, black stick to push the face of a young woman. When she continued toward the policeman from Madrid, dressed like Darth Vader (with helmet minus the cape), he swung his stick backhanded to connect with her head. It was all captured on somebody’s phone and shared on WhatsApp.

Ninety percent of the voters approved Catalan Independence over the weekend. However, less than 3 million of the 7 million registered voters in Catalunya cast a ballot. Partly because the Spanish police were taking the ballots from the schools used as voting places.

The Catalan government has not yet declared Independence, but every night at exactly 10 pm the residents of Barcelona continue to bang their pots and pans and cowbells as loud as they can for roughly 20 minutes or more. Before the vote, they made a din for 15 minutes and no more. Now they are getting rowdy and losing track of time.

This morning, thousands of people gathered around Escola Ramon Llull, a school in Barcelona where police confiscated voting ballots in an attempt to stop the Independence vote. The protesters hung multi-colored flowers and handmade signs on the school gate. A typed sign announced in Catalan, “You will never silence the voice of the citizens. On October 1 we won all those who believe in freedom.” Then the mothers and fathers with their children marched down Gran Via, one of the major streets in Barcelona, to join the thousands of other groups of pro-Independence protesters.

Today, there are very few shops open for business. Most of the grocery stores and restaurants are closed. The Metro, or subway, is not operating. Cars with the green light have had to wait for the steady stream of Catalan-flag caped protesters and fluorescent-orange clad firefighters, and all of the thousands of people with them, to pass by the intersection before motorized transportation could continue.

The people of Barcelona are singing and chanting together in the streets today. They are on strike and they are celebrating their Independence.

Photo of the main gate at Escola Ramon Llull on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, two days after Spanish police raided the school-cum-voting-place and took the paper ballots to be used in the Independence vote. Translation: “You will never silence the voice of the citizens. On October 1 we won all those who believe in freedom.” by Justin Bass 


Trump needs a drink

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

needs a drink. The last two presidents who didn’t drink were the worst. Preside responsibly.

Make America Great Again?

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Only 2 weeks into his presidency, Trump is changing his slogan: “Make America Prevaricate Again.”