Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • So, President Rajoy had his day in court yesterday, claiming that he knew nothing at all about the endemic corruption in a PP party he's been a senior member of for quite some time. See The Guardian on this here. I don't know if Sr Rajoy explained how come his initials were on the (ex)Treasurer's brown-payments list but I doubt anyone one in Spain believes a singe word of his testimony. Though the court might well choose to. For one reason and another.
  • I've recently asked if Spanish women - who still look just as feminine as ever - are nowadays trying to out-masculinise the worst of men. Here's some evidence for this.
  • Fish names can be hard to get right in Spain. They differ form region to region and even from town town along Spain's long coastline. This comment results from attempts to find out what whitebait are in Spain - having ordered them, I thought, in Oporto on Monday. Take for example small hake. These are known as pescaditas, pescadillas and pescadiñas even in Galicia alone. But there's also the word carioca, which usually in the Hispanic world means someone from Rio de Janeiro. But not here, where it probably means the smallest - hopefully legal - version of the fish. In Pontevedra at least. As if that wasn't enough, this site also gives pixota. BTW . . .  the word in Spanish for hake is merluza. it's a fish very highly rated in Spain but thought of as too bland in neighbouring France. I'm with the French on this. Though I adore deep fried cariocas. Pick the fish out of that.

While accepting that it's all about public posturing prior to detailed Brexit negotiations, it's hard to be impressed by the public comments (threats?) of either the UK or EU lead negotiators. As someone has written of the EU contingent: European negotiators have a choice of how to handle the Brexit talks. Sniping at the counterparts and digging their heels in may delight their political leaders, but does little to help build towards a deal being done in time. It's time they had a reality check and realised compromise is not a one-way street. If they can't bear to give ground, and think reality has to bite for the British instead, they cannot be surprised if they find themselves left at the table with no deal done and a massive bill to pick up. I'm not sure either side really understands where the other is coming from. Nor where it's prepared to go.

Here's Don Quijones' sceptical view of the monster that is now Amazon. In his/her view: It’s eroding opportunity and fueling inequality, and it’s concentrating power in ways that endanger competition, life and democracy. Quite a charge-sheet.

Below this post is a nice article of the bloody-mindnesses of the people Donald Trump relies on for his surely limited tenure of the US presidency.

Yesterday, I went to Vigo for with lunch with friends. On the way out of the train station, I snapped this diagonal pillar, the one my head hit when I was walking while reading a text message last time I was there. What a stupid place to put it!

To reach this point, I had to climb the stairs, while virtually every other passenger took the escalator.

This is why Spaniards are getting fatter. Nothing to do with all the factors usually cited. It's because they're lazy!

A few years ago, I posted fotos of the single and two-storey houses that were fast disappearing from Pontevedra. Yesterday, while taking a short cut, I happened on this one. Nowhere near as pretty as the earlier ones but interesting just the same:-

Today's cartoon:-

I don't see how thre-quarters of the world can be starving - this restaurant is always packed.

Why Trump diehards are blind to reality David Aaronovitch

From communists to right-wing populists, it is human nature to ignore all the evidence that your beliefs were wrong

At what point do you, I, anyone or any group committed to a certain view admit that we were wrong?

On Tuesday, at a rally in Ohio, up to 7,000 people were told by Donald Trump that “with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln . . . I can be more presidential than any president who has ever held this office!” And they gave him a great cheer.

President Trump’s point was that he has little time for “being presidential” (ie dignified, measured and unifying) because he is too busy actually doing things. But he could be if he wanted to be, believe him. More than Reagan, more than the Roosevelts, more than Washington. It was possibly the least presidential thing any American ever heard uttered by a president. And his audience still cheered.

So what would stop them applauding him? Obviously not his Twitter vendettas, nor the absence of any concrete achievement (apart, of course, from the ban on transgender people serving in the military). Not his bizarre disavowal of his own attorney-general Jeff Sessions, nor even the attempts at collusion between his campaign team and agents of the Russian government. Polling of Trump supporters suggests that they see all these problems either as part of an attempt to persecute their hero, or as utterly unimportant. Worse, the criticism entrenches their view.

So I invite Trumpites to try out this scenario. Suppose that, last year, Iranian intelligence had procured information about Trump’s business deals. Imagine that Chelsea Clinton, her husband and five or six other Clinton advisers had met an intermediary linked to the Iranian government to explore what that person could offer by way of dirt on the Trumps. Would his supporters have (a) dismissed this as flimflam or (b) demanded immediate punishment?

OK. It’s a rhetorical question and the example I’ve chosen suits my prejudices. Some other examples don’t. For a start, I come from a family that got some very big things spectacularly wrong. My parents were motivated by a desire for the meek to inherit the earth before and not after they died. Mum and Dad became communists and communists understood that the Great October Revolution in Russia, 100 years old this autumn, had brought a new world into existence.

They fought for workers’ rights and better conditions and an end to racism and exploitation and so on. They sacrificed a lot: money, careers, time. And they embraced some of the biggest lies of the 20th century. They believed that the show trials of the Thirties and late-Forties were proper processes and that the purges were a regrettable necessity. People who said different had been duped by the “bourgeois press” (these days known as the “mainstream media”). Then in 1956 the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, told the world that almost everything the bourgeois press had said about Uncle Joe Stalin was true and all the stuff the loyal British communists had been saying was utterly false. And even then some communists wouldn’t believe it. I had a little red soft spot for Fidel Castro until the turn of the millennium.

In her 2010 book Being Wrong the American writer Kathryn Schulz examined the problem of admitting error. There were the usual problems of “confirmation bias”: actively looking for things that help your argument and dismissing things that don’t. Take the tendency of partisans to complain that polls are wrong or even rigged when they go against you, and to cite them approvingly when they’re favourable.
But Schulz looked beyond this to the strategies that people devise to avoid an admission of outright error. Her great example was the fate of the Millerites, a sect of Christians who convinced themselves that the world would end on October 22, 1844. So they stopped planting and harvesting, gave their houses away and prepared to be received into the bosom of the returning Redeemer. They called what happened next, ie nothing, the Great Disappointment. But what they did not do was declare themselves to have been wrong.

Instead they adopted, says Schulz, five defences. And I invite readers to ask if any of them seem familiar. The first was the “time-frame” defence: the Second Coming is still coming so I was just out by a little in my calculations. Let’s see how it turns out, time will tell, and so on. I’ve used that myself over the war in Iraq, I’m afraid.

The second was the “near-miss” defence. It almost happened as I said it would, or as Schulz puts it, “if I hadn’t been wrong I would have been right”. This is a close relative to the third, the “out-of-left-field” defence. It was going just as I said it would and then something utterly unexpected happened. But, as Schulz says, “just about any event can be defined as unforeseeable if you yourself failed to foresee it”.

Fourth is the “I was wrong but it’s your fault” defence. I was badly advised, trusted the wrong people, failed to act on my own best instincts. And fifth is the “better safe than sorry” defence. Thinking what I did and seeing what I did, it would have been wrong for me to act otherwise. You might summarise this as “I did what I thought was right”. Remind you of anyone?

I’d add one of my own: the “it would have been just fine if it weren’t for you” defence. If Brexit fails it will have been the fault of the naysayers who talked down the country. The saboteurs, uncrushed, will try to turn my rightness into wrongness.

If pointing out to someone that they’re wrong merely confirms their sense of rightness, what are you to do? Tell them they’re right and make them think that because it’s you saying it they must be wrong? Nudge them through an affirming niceness into an unnoticed change of mind?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so pessimistic. Often people who are less committed than my parents were deal with wrongness by deciding that they weren’t as bothered over the big question as others assumed. So they ease themselves into a mental accommodation. The historian James T Patterson likes to point out that John Kennedy received 49.7 per cent of the vote in the 1960 presidential election. Shortly before his assassination in 1963, nearly 60 per cent of Americans recalled voting for him. After his death that climbed to 65 per cent. 

We can be obstinate but we can also be agile. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover in a year or two that most of the people at that rally in Ohio on Tuesday had gone to see Trump out of mere curiosity.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's a report on the latest anti-bullfighting development in Spain, in the Balearic Islands. Whatever side of the divide you're on, you might share my ironic laughter that behind it is a concern to prevent animals enduring physical or psychological suffering. Think factory farms and slaughter houses.
  • Last evening 3 different neighbours warned me I was facing a fine of up to €6,000 for washing my car in the street. But none of them could give me any logical reason for this, other than protecting the income of the local car washes (los boxes). And it's against the backcloth of massive per capita water usage/wastage in Spain. Thinking about it, I guess it makes sense for those living in a block of flats, where the only place to do this is on a busy road. For me - who doesn't - the way I look at it is: every time I avoid a fine of €6k, it compensates for all the motoring fines I've been tricked into paying. Psychologically at least.
  • Here's The Local with another of its revamped lists - The most beautiful plazas in Spain.
  • It seems that those bits of Spain fed up with a surfeit of tourists are going to tackle the problem by increasing specific taxes and introducing more regulations and paperwork. One could be forgiven for thinking this is the standard Spanish solution to commerce-related issues.
  • It's hard to believe it's 4 years since the train crash here in Galicia which killed 80 people. Even harder to believe is the report that the ERTMS safety system which would have prevented it has yet to be installed in drivers' cabins. Maybe this would be construed by the court as an admission of negligence. Who knows?
If you're a Brit resident in Spain, here's a letter to you from the British ambassador,

Here's a review of an odd film set here in Galicia. Might be worth seeing.

Pontevedra's shops close with great frequency, sometimes to open as something else but often not. On the little street between Veggie Square and my regular watering hole, the only shops which have never closed are the stationers and the religious relics place - the cerería (after cera, 'wax', I guess.) The latest closure I've come against is the bike shop in my barrio to which I took my neglected 32 year old Raleigh Medale to have new tyres fitted yesterday. Mind you, as it was a public holiday, it would've been closed even if it had still be open. As it were.

Down at the border with Portugal, here's one of the groups performing in Valença's summer musical festival. They're Portuguese and you can see them on youtube, if you like that sort of thing. And here's their FB page:-

Finally . . . I really should put my dashcam on each morning, given the things I see happening in front of me. Like the drivers (all of them) who give no thought to passing cars when they open the doors of their parked cars. Or the middle-aged couple yesterday morning who thought it would be smart to travel against the flow of traffic on a main road. Albeit wearing safety helmets and in single file. So, not totally stupid. And don't get me onto roundabouts . . . .

Today's cartoon:-

Now . . . just to be serious for a moment . . . 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Note: Yesterday I made one of my periodic trips to the lively city of Oporto, primarily to lunch with Lenox Napier – of Business Over Tapas – and his partner Loli. My write-up is at the end of this post. 

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's The Local's list of architectural wonders here in Spain. Modern ones anyway.
  • And here's Don Quijones on the Madrid-Barcelona financial stand-off.
  • My daughter in Madrid sent me this foto of a building there and asked if I could guess what it had originally been, according to an old chap who'd lived there and chatted to her about it. I did, successfully. But, in all honesty, it's not hard to do:-

I say it's not hard to guess what it was but my lovely neighbour, Ester, has just come to take more of my lemons and her first thought was that it was a convent . . . . 'because of the bars on the window'.

Some more Spanish idioms, kindly supplied by reader María. (That narrows it down . . .):-
  • Another saying for not mixing up things: No mezcles churras con merinas. These are different breeds of sheep, apparently one more pricey than the other.
  • And for an old maid: Se quedó para vestir santos. Because it used to be spinsters who had the job of dressing the images of the saints in the churches.
Nutters Corner: I can do no better that to cite this page. And this imbecile was a Congresswoman. The one who believes a prayer meeting in New York brought Trump into power.

Today's cartoon:-

I made it! I made it! I'm into the quarter-finals!


Arrived at Valença station at 8.15 for the 9.11 train. Bought a ticket, after deciding not to go with the 8.35 train about to leave. With time to kill before the 9.11 train (Is it too Anglo to ask Why not 9.10??), I hied to a nearby café, as neither the staion café nor its Gin Room were open. There were 4 customers already there but the silence was quite deafening. There was actually a (single!) TV on in the corner but the volume was so low it could hardly be heard. 

I perused the local paper and discovered that, though airline passengers and businesses are flowing in ever-increasing numbers from Galicia to Northern Portugal, at least one thing is going in the opposite direction – nudists. Not many naturist beaches south of the border, it seems.

Flicking the paper, I was rather taken aback to see 2 whole pages of ads for prostitutes in North Portugal's various towns. These appear in Spanish papers as well, of course, but in the Portuguese case most are accompanied by fotos. And they aren't of the ladies faces.

The train from Valença left on time at 9.11 but stopped almost immediately at an unscheduled station, apparently to let pass a train coming from the other direction. Single track?? So, by the time we got to the first proper station, we were already 12 minutes late. But the 120km (very pretty) trip takes 2.5 hours, so there was plenty of time to make this up.

When I asked the ticket collector if he spoke English, he gave the standard Iberian reply: “Only a little”. In Spain, this is almost invariably accurate but, in fact, he spoke excellent English and was most charming in answering my query about the return train and in wishing me a good trip, with a pat on the shoulder.

In the end, it was a strange trip. We stopped for 15 minutes in Barcelos and then we were moved to another train which was said to be leaving earlier for Oporto. This new train didn't stop at any of the 4 stations before Caminha in Oporto that our original train had been scheduled to stop at. My timetable suggested it could only be the 8.35 train which had originated in Vigo and had left Valença 31 minutes before mine. If so, it was 90m late getting into Oporto while I was merely 25 minutes late. Oddly, the last time I got the train from Vigo it was 40 minutes late into Caminha because it stopped at many stations it wasn't scheduled to. I thought at the time this was because it was Sunday. But perhaps the Portuguese national carrier just makes things up as it goes along. As British Rail used to before it was privatised. And as it will do again, if Jeremy Corbyn even gets to power and re-nationalises it.

Travelling can be such fun . . . Especially on Portuguese railways, or CP as it's known. I hurried to Caminha station to get the 4.46 train back to Valença  No such train showing on the board at 4.30. No such train showing at any platform. No information at the so-called Information desk next to the ticket counters – Sorry, we don't do trains. Only do Oporto. Join the ticket queue. By the time I got to the ticket desk it was 4.50 and I was told I should have got a train to somewhere else at 4.46 and changed at Nine. Which information was not on the timetabe I'd printed out from the CP web page on Sunday night. More to the point, the 4.46 train was delayed until 5.35 and presumably wouldn't anyway have made the connection with the train to Valença. As I said, shades of British Rail.

I finally got a train an hour and a half later. Allowing me to get back to Pontevedra just in time for the 10.30 start of the 4th concert of our annual Jazz and Blues festival. More jazz than Blues, unfortunately. So, I didn't go to it.

Finally . . . I had a wine at a café opposite the station. It wasn't great but at 1€ a glass, what can one realistically expect?

incidentally, there are surely state-managed railways that are very well run. Japan springs to mind. And perhaps Germany and even France. Apart from the above, there were various other indications that Portugal doesn't number among these. But I won't bore you with details.

Finally on the trip  . . .  Here's a foto of something you are bound to see if you take the (excellent) Metro. At the ticket machine:-

I guage that the minimum time each newcomer wrestles with the system is 5 minutes. At Caminha, there was a CP employee standing by to help but it seems he's only allowed to intervene and become at all useful after this point. He's the one in the yellow jacket, of course. Doing nothing.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • The cities of Barcelona and Valencia and the island of Ibiza are heartily fed up of excess numbers of tourists. They're being Venice-ised, it's said. More here
  • If I mention tulips, you'll doubtless think of Holland. And maybe even the tulip financial bubble. It turns out that neither this nor the British South Sea bubble were the first of this kind of thing. This honour goes, in fact, to Spain. For that very Spanish thing, the corrupt sale of offices. See here, in Spanish.
  • With La Crisis well and truly over, emigrants are returning to Spain. In these numbers so far this year:-
Madrid: 16,000
Cataluña: 9,000
Galicia, Valencia and Andalucia: 5,000
Castilla y León: 2,000

Here's the opening points of an interesting article on the issue of free movement of people in the EU:- Cars crossing from Italy into France are being stopped and searched. Their drivers and passengers are being interrogated and made to show their national identity documents. So much for open borders. Presumably France is being permitted to puncture the spirit of the Schengen agreement because Emmanuel Macron is the current darling of European Union optimists. He is taking apparent liberties with what Michel Barnier constantly reminds us is the sacred EU principle of free movement of people, for which the leaders of countries such as Poland and Hungary would be castigated. So, the same old different strokes for different folks. See the end of this post for the whole article.

Which reminds me . . . I was rather brought up with a start by the claim I read last week that within 13 years Africa will have another 500 million inhabitants.

But I didn't react at all to the headline (in Spanish) that: A Spain in which no one trusts anyone else. Didn't bother to read the article, though. And it surely can't be totally true.

The second article at the end of this post talks of Trump's probable plan to grant pardons to everyone implicated in the Russia imbroglio. Mostly his relatives, of course.

Facebook is a weird nexus. Presumably reflecting the interests of my diverse range of friends, yesterday was was invited to joint the Young Conservatives, the Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party Forum and the Friends of Jacob Rees Mogg. I guess it makes sense to someone.

Very locally, I discovered last week why my GP had disappeared and why the receptionist now sits behind glass. Both had suffered the occupational hazard of being attacked by our local gypsies because a patient had not recovered sufficiently quickly. If at all. I'd heard of this happening in the hospitals but not in GP surgeries. One problem the UK NHS doesn't suffer from.

Yesterday in my regular bar, 2 notable things happened:-
  1. I didn't finish the 'special tortilla' that they make for me. Too dry and mushy. Being still semi-British, I didn't complain but answered the waiter when he asked what the matter with it was. I later wondered whether he'd told his girlfriend – the sous-cook who'd made it – and wondered if my acting according to British cultural norms would upset her. Instead of being Spanish and sending it straight back to the kitchen, I'd done the British thing of being indirecta and making it clear(??) it was substandard and waiting for a response from the owners. Which didn't come, of course.
  2. While I was talking to a trio of Irish tourists, a 20-strong stag party arrived at the next bar on the terrace and kicked up noise that was – even by Spanish standards – extreme. So I went and - jocularly – pointed out that we couldn't hear ourselves speak 3 metres away. Their first reaction was to get louder. Their second was to laugh. And their third was to invite me to join them for a drink. Which I did. Though the – distinctly hungover-looking – groom didn't appear to appreciate my jokes about marriage. I asked if the wedding was today but they told me it was to be in September. The lucky young man, they added, had to go away to sea in the meantime. A very Spanish happening.
Finally . . . Here's some jolly fotos taken on Thursday, and yesterday. I wondered whether it was a good example of the graffiti which plagues the old quarter but I now think it's something about to open there. Perhaps the millionth bar:-

Meanwhile, here's yet another high street dental operation, down at the bottom of the old quarter, where there was a Grand Opening cocktail party on Saturday evening:-

Today's cartoon:-


1.  Freedom of movement in Europe will end. But will it be orderly or chaotic? Janet Daley.

Cars crossing from Italy into France are being stopped and searched. Their drivers and passengers are being interrogated and made to show their national identity documents. So much for open borders. Presumably France is being permitted to puncture the spirit of the Schengen agreement because Emmanuel Macron is the current darling of European Union optimists. He is taking apparent liberties with what Michel Barnier constantly reminds us is the sacred EU principle of free movement of people, for which the leaders of countries such as Poland and Hungary would be castigated. 

Mr Macron and his border enforcement teams would, of course, argue that these procedures are not designed to prevent the populations of member states from exercising their right to live and work anywhere within the EU, but to prevent an unlimited influx of migrants from the rest of the world being transported across the continent illegally.

That justification for the vigorous policing of the crossing point between the migrant camp at Ventimiglia on the Italian side and the open country of France and points North on the other neatly misses the point.

It is precisely the freedom of movement guaranteed to legitimate EU citizens that is exacerbating (or helping to create) the mass migration problem, by portraying Europe as an unpoliced, open-access, free-for-all.

The movement of peoples from poor or war-ravaged countries to rich, stable ones is nothing new. Nor are civil war, tyranny and poverty in Africa and the Middle East anything new (although much of the developing world is now emerging from poverty as a consequence of free trade). The determination to escape from such conditions has been a fact of global life for generations.

What has given a fresh impetus to the possibility of such movement – and particularly to economic migration – is the miraculous invitation offered by a borderless Europe. The message went out to the world: set foot on any Greek island, or on the southernmost rocky prominence of Italy, and you will become effectively invisible, able to make your way unhindered to any of the flourishing nations of Western Europe because, even though you are not legally entitled to the “free movement” rights that belong to EU citizens, there will be no checks at national crossing points to impede you.

So every coastline entry point and every land border became a target for the criminally ruthless people-trafficking industry that could offer heaven on earth to the desperate – or at least to those who had enough money to pay what it demanded (which is to say, not the poorest or most desperate).

So this is the other side of that sacrosanct principle which has become an intractable sticking point in the Brexit negotiations as well as the most incendiary issue within the EU itself. Now it seems that Philip Hammond has won the fight within Cabinet to maintain the free movement of people for an as yet unspecified transition period (two years? four years? for ever?) because business interests have expressed so much concern about losing the infinite supply of workers that the less fortunate member countries provide.

And here is the essence of it: many business sectors in Britain, from agriculture to catering, have become dependent on a permanent flow of foreign staff. There is an economic justification, at least in the short term, for letting this continue, even though it will specifically flout the stated desires of the population and thus risk dangerous political backlash.

Similarly, Germany, where an ageing population is in need of an injection of young workers, benefits massively not only from the importation of eastern and southern Europeans but potentially from the Syrian refugees that it so controversially welcomed. It is hardly surprising that Germany – and the Brussels establishment over which it has such influence – is one of the most implacable advocates of free movement.

But ask yourself: what effect is that diaspora of young people fleeing from the poorer countries of the EU and the rest of the world, offering their labour and energies to richer countries, likely to have in the end?

Those poorer, former communist EU states that have had such a bad press for their hostility to migrants can see very clearly where this might be heading: to permanent backwardness and dependence on bail-outs – ironically from Germany, whose own population so resents this arrangement.

It is significant that this troublesome principle is now always described by the Brussels apparat as the “free movement of people”, which seems to imbue it with an almost Biblical righteousness. But the actual wording of the EU rule refers to the “free movement of workers”.

Free movement is applied to four categories as if they were morally equivalent: goods, capital, services and labour. Goods are things, capital is money, and services are transactions: to treat workers as if they were not qualitatively different from the others is an almost perfect example of what Marx called the “commodification of labour”. Turning people into one more financial resource for business may suit the corporate interests of Europe (and the UK) very well, but it hardly seems to match the idealistic aspirations of the European project. Is this what is meant by a Brexit that “puts jobs first”?

The mutual suspicion and political destabilisation of Europe that is being precipitated by the migrant crisis will have to be faced, whatever terms the UK accepts.

Italy’s populist Five Star Movement is making hay over the French hard line on its border. Even Italian politicians of more conventional persuasions are furious that their country – which has 40 per cent youth unemployment – is being left to cope with the migrant flow that is being shut out by France, just as Greece was left to cope when it was the arrival point of choice last summer.

The failure of the EU to deal with migration is not just incompetence: it comes from a basic refusal to accept that its member states have different and conflicting needs. To save the rest of the project, “free movement” will have to be shut down: the only question is how organised or chaotic that process is going to be.

2.  So this is Donald Trump's Russian endgame: he might actually just pardon his relatives. 

So there we have it. Confirmation, if any were needed, appears on the front page of the Washington Post this morning telling us that White House lawyers have begun discussing using presidential pardons to limit the damage from the ever expanding Russia investigation.

The prospect has circulated for weeks as the circle of senior officials and politicians caught up in a web of accusations and supposition grows.

It forms the second part part of a two-pronged strategy to defend the president. It involves first undermining Robert Mueller, who heads the federal investigation into Russian meddling, and then holding out the possibility of issuing pardons to draw a line under the whole sorry thing.

Last Sunday, Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, did the Full Ginsberg, appearing on all five major political talk shows (an impressive feat pioneered by William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer in 1998) to attack the legitimacy of Mr Mueller’s inquiry.

He did so by claiming it was the dastardly product of James Comey, the fired FBI director, and his decision to leak details of a private conversation with the president. His claim, of course, is backed by Mr Comey himself who said under oath that was exactly the reason for leaking a memo.

So in Mr Sekulow’s telling, Mr Mueller’s appointment was the result of “illegally leaked” information and a plot to install a special counsel.

To Trump supporters it is clear a conspiracy is afoot to ensnare their man. Drastic times call for drastic measures, which is where the pardons come in.

American presidents have sweeping powers to pardon individuals even before they are convicted. Richard Nixon, who resigned as president in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, was given a pre-emptive pardon by his successor Gerald Ford. It covered any crimes he may have committed during his time in office. 

Mr Ford was well within his rights to do so but was condemned for striking a “corrupt bargain”. He lost his bid for re-election two years later, a defeat he blamed on that generosity.

Mr Trump may well reflect on Mr Ford’s fate as his lawyers mull the pros and cons of killing the Russia investigation with clemency. (OK, he won’t. He has no time for historical analysis and presidential precedent so just bear with me here.)

But if we have learnt anything in the two years since this unconventional politician began his improbable rise, it is that political norms and niceties no longer apply.

Pardoning close associates and relatives is less of a self-serving act if supporters believe Mr Trump is the victim of a witch hunt.

And, in these polarised times, angering the opposition is a win in itself.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 23.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • To start positively  . . . . Here, here and here are some road trips in Spain recommended by The Guardian. Or possibly by someone who is paying them.
  • Less positively, an article on the world's loveliest rivers fails to cite one from Spain. Not even our Cañon del Sil. The closest they get is Portugal's Douro. Which is admittedly very pretty:-
  • Not a huge surprise to read that Spain has more bars per capita than any other EU country. As of cities, I suspect that Pontevedra's old quarter would come high on the list.
  • As we know, Spain is home to some weird festivals, some of which involve animals and some of which don't. Here's a Galician one I reported on, after I'd attended it a couple of years or more ago.
  • One of the great things about Spain is that things still happen here which have been banned as 'sexist' elsewhere. But now there's a bit of controversy around this one.
  • Things continue to hot up in Cataluña. The good news for Madrid is that the percentage of residents in favour of secession is reducing. The bad news is that many of these won't turn out to vote against a referendum on October 1, allowing the nationalists to win the day.
  • Meanwhile, here's news of one town which wants to quit Cataluña.
  • In its fight with Barcelona, Madrid latest step is to demand regular explanations as to where money transfers are going.
  • Today comes the news that 73% of Spanish learner drivers fail the test the first time round. When you experience how they later approach roundabouts, you wonder why this figure is so low. But perhaps it's not their fault. Here are 2 diagrams from one of our local papers yesterday, once again trying to tell people how to approach both normal roundabouts like this one:-

and also the new turborotondas such as this one in the centre of Vigo:-

So, the incompetent and hapless Sean Spicer has quit as Trump's mouthpiece. Probably the best thing he's ever done, of course. Here's a niece Guardian piece about this development.

I mentioned yesterday that Spain was one of the few countries in which bankers are being made to pay for their illegal actions of the last decade. Here's Don Quijones on what's not happening in one US case.

The Daily Telegraph used to be a good right-of-centre UK newspaper. But it's now regarded as little better than the country's dreadful tabloids. Evidence for why this came yesterday from the list of Most Read articles on line - Justin Bieber banned from China in order to 'purify' nation. Ye gods!

Finally . . .  Yesterday I was complaining to my my neighbour and to the plumber who was doing some work for her that my lawns had been invaded buy a horrible grass. This one, in fact:-

When I showed them an example of it, they fell back in astonishment. But that's gramón, they both exclaimed. It's the best grass you can have for a lawn. OK, it's painful to walk on but it's resistant to everything extreme cold. I concluded that neither of them knew anything about grass and real lawns. And then I realised why the woman in the agricultural shop last week had looked nonplussed when I asked if they had something I could use to kill it.

Today's cartoons:-

1. This is a Spanish one centred on the recent acceptance of Iros by the Royal Academy. I need someone to tell me what it's all about and why it's funny . . . 

2. A traditional British cartoon:-

I'm doing the warm-up

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