Monday, July 23, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 23.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

  • The widespread view is that the new leader of the PP party will take it (even further) to the Right.
  • I couldn't help noticing that his (blonde) wife resembles Mrs Macron. Indeed, the couple together look rather similar to the Macrons. As do the leader of Ciudadanos and his (blonde) wife. Telegenic, I guess. As Mr and Mrs Blair used to be . . .
  • Someone has described Sr Casado as 'A robot created in the factory of [ex-president] Aznar'. Sounds about right.
  • You have to laugh at Casado's assertion that No one is going to lecture us on corruption.
Life in Spain
  • If you live here and feel some food prices have been rising sharply, you're right. Fruit and veg in particular. See here.
  • There might be a huge backlog in Spain's slow-moving courts – especially in post-strike Galicia – but this is no reason to change cultural norms. When, last week, I told the clerk of the court that I couldn't make the appointment for this week, she replied it would have to be either the next day or some time in September, as nothing happened in August. As if I didn't know.
  • My comment yesterday about there being no 5 centimo coin was, first, an afterthought and, secondly, totally wrong. There are 5, 2 and even 1 cent coins. My excuse is that I was thinking about no one these days quoting prices in duros (5 cents), as they did to me in a village near Malaga back in 2001. But this is probably wrong as well. I can imagine it happening in a village up in the hills.
The UK and Brexit
  • What was I saying about the Norway option? See the articles below. 
  • Nice comment: Brexit has become like one of those obscure theological debates, where seemingly trivial doctrinal differences that few outside the priesthood fully comprehend manage to incite extreme passions and seething anger
  • Richard North remains pessimistic: Whatever else, we are not going to see the adoption of the Efta/EEA option under our current prime minister. This stupid woman has convinced herself that it "would mean continued free movement, ongoing vast annual payments and total alignment with EU rules across the whole of our economy, and no control of our trade policy". If that was true, it would be unacceptable. That Mrs May believes it to be true makes it unacceptable to her and her followers. And that puts it out of reach as a solution for the time being. we can all live in hope that a last-minute solution will be found. But only fools will embrace the current situation or look upon it with any degree of optimism. We are sleepwalking into a political crisis, the like of which has not been experienced in living memory.  . . From our point of view, we must never accept that a "no deal" is the end of the matter, or abandon hope that, some day, we can get things moving in the direction of the Efta/EEA option. This requires an intensification of effort, to overcome the ignorance and misinformation that has so damaged perception of the option.
  • Christopher Booker: The full implications of leaving the EEA were never explained in the referendum campaign, and they have never been understood by our politicians since. But in eight months time, they will begin to be brought home to us. To put it mildly, we will not be happy.
The UK
  • Utterly depressing news . . . Thirty-four per cent of Brits think Johnson would do a better job than Mrs May in negotiating the Brexit. Though, on reflection, this is not so surprising. Or even depressing. Almost anyone in the UK would do a better job. Certainly depressing, though, is that the majority of Tory voters think Johnson should lead the Conservatives into the next election. A poor man's Trump. God forbid.
  • If Trump were to go, Mike Pence would be in charge. Watch this video for a coruscating view of the man from a fellow Republican.
Russia and The USA
  • Historian Niall Ferguson affirms that, if future historian are any good, they will ask is: What did Trump and Putin actually discuss in private, with only interpreters present? He speculates: If I know Putin, it will have been the big-picture geopolitical stuff, and then hazards this guess at what was said:-
VP: What is the point of our constantly being at odds, Donald?
DT: Beats me.
VP: These sanctions are the work of your corrupt Congress. They are pointless. I am not giving back Crimea, and you know it.
DT: That’s a fact.
VP: True, I occasionally try to liquidate my political opponents, sometimes in foreign locations such as Salisbury, sometimes unsuccessfully, but your CIA has been doing that kind of wet job since time immemorial.
DT: There’s no denying it.
VP: Who are our real enemies?
DT: The Chinese. The Iranians. I’m kind of sick of the Germans too.
VP: You’re talking my language. I don’t much like those guys either. Here’s the way I see it. If you and I can work together, I can help you and you can help me. We cut a deal in the Middle East. We screw the Iranians — I don’t need them any more in Syria. We put the squeeze on the Chinese before they take over the world, including my back yard in central Asia. And we remind the Germans how much they fear us and need you.
DT: I like it.
VP: But just one thing, Donald.
DT: What’s that?
VP: No one must find out what we just agreed. So when we do the press conference, make sure you play your usual game with the press.
DT: Leave it to me.
VP: You know what the historians will call you and me one day, Donald?
DT: No — what?
VP: The Double Negatives.
DT: I don’t see why they wouldn’t.
  • I don't know what happens in real federal states such as the USA and Germany, but here in this pseudo-federal state major taxes can differ markedly from region to region. Capital gains taxes and inheritance taxes and property transger, for example. It's all a bit of a mess and the tax office (the Hacienda) appears to be gearing up for standardisation. The Galician president has insisted this is a devolved competency and that it'll never happen. I wouldn't be so confident. The new PSOE government needs higher tax revenue. What would be easier than to modify low-tax regional schemes?
  • As if we really needed it, there's a new autovia – the A57 - being built to connect the north-south AP9 while bypassing Pontevedra in the hills to the east. Some work is taking place in one place and other stretches have been identified and even approved. But I note that the press reports don't mention even a tentative date for completion. Possibly wise.
  • There's a vicious kind of Asian wasp that's killing people here in Galicia – 2 farmers in the last week or so. It's called the velutina here, based on it's real name of Vespa velutina. Almost as dangerous as our kamikaze drivers.
Finally . . .
  • I wonder why Americans say cohabitate, when Brits say cohabit.

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 22.7.18


1. Britain's politics have been broken by Brexit, leaving the Norway option as the only viable way forward
After another turbulent week at Westminster, epitomised by Tories screaming abuse at one another as if on opposite sides of the house, Brexit is once again in a state of limbo.

Even though agreed by Cabinet, the Chequers white paper was essentially dead on arrival. No deal is better than a bad deal, Theresa May famously said. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that Chequers is very bad indeed; so bad in fact, that Brussels would be biting the Prime Minister’s hand off to accept it if negotiators thought there was any possibility of it being the final negotiating position.

Brexit has become like one of those obscure theological debates, where seemingly trivial doctrinal differences that few outside the priesthood fully comprehend manage to incite extreme passions and seething anger. There is not just the overarching schism between Leave and Remain, but schisms within schisms, and heresies so arcane that even their advocates struggle to define them.

The result is total gridlock. Understandably, markets grow ever more concerned about an accidental, no deal outcome. That certainly seems to be the logic of the present impasse; if nothing else can be agreed, then there is nothing to negotiate, and Britain will tumble out on World Trade Organisation terms.

Even so, I can’t see that happening; on present parliamentary arithmetic, it wouldn’t be allowed. My bet is still that once the politicians have fully exhausted themselves, we’ll end up with an ultra soft, Norway or European Economic Area type Brexit. Hardliners will just have to suck it and hope that it’s no more than a staging post to a more comprehensive divorce down the line. One thing looks ever more certain, however; it won’t be Mrs May who delivers it.

2. The shambles that is the Brexit negotiations is entering its dog days: Christopher Booker

The last days of July were known to the ancient world as the “dog days”, associated with oppressive heat and drought, causing human affairs to become feverishly unreal and men (and dogs) to lose their marbles.

Certainly, recent days have lived up to that billing, most obviously in the ever more glaring shambles we are making over Brexit. First, we had Chequers and Theresa May’s tortuous “final offer” White Paper. It prompted a stream of ministerial resignations but was almost immediately dismissed by the European Commission as wholly unworkable. Then came those fractious Commons debates, which showed that scarcely a single MP has any idea of what an impossible situation we find ourselves in.

This was followed by Liam Fox warning the EU that, unless it accepts Mrs May’s “fair and reasonable” offer, several of its economies, such as that of Ireland, would face severe damage, amounting to tens of billions of pounds. No mention of the far greater damage we are risking to our own economy.

Finally, any sense that we might be fast approaching a denouement to the mess we have made of our negotiations could only have been confirmed by the Commission’s 16-page “Communication” on Thursday, warning all concerned that they must urgently prepare themselves, with or without a deal, for the very serious consequences of the UK’s decision to withdraw itself from every aspect of the EU’s economic system, to become what is termed a “third country”.

This followed the 68 Notices to Stakeholders issued by the Commission since March, setting out the legal repercussions of our decision to become a “third country” for almost every sector of our economic activity (how many British politicians have read them?).

Economic chaos now seems inevitable. And this will be the result of a quite unprecedented failure by our entire political class, so lost in its soap bubbles of wishful thinking that it has never begun to appreciate the reality of what we were up against

The latest paper reminds us that our decision to leave not just the EU but also the wider European Economic Area (EEA) makes it inevitable that, even with an agreed deal, we shall face often fatally time-consuming border controls all along our new frontiers with the EU (Ireland included).

So enmeshed have we become with Europe over four decades that previous Notices to Stakeholders have already pointed out just how much of our national life is now only legally authorised under EU regulations, from our driving licences and our right to fly into EU airspace, to those “passporting rights” that have helped London to stay the financial centre of Europe.

Yet we now have barely three months to sort all this out before October, when we were supposed to have signed a final deal: all because our politicians have frittered away 17 months putting forward nothing more than fantasy “non-solutions”, not one of which could have worked.

Barely imaginable economic chaos now seems inevitable. And this will be the result of a quite unprecedented failure by our entire political class, so lost in its soap bubbles of wishful thinking that it has never begun to appreciate the reality of what we were up against. Worst of all is the realisation that virtually all of this mess was avoidable, if only Mrs May had not made her fateful Lancaster House decision to leave the EEA, our membership of which could alone have ensured continued “frictionless” trade “within the market”, which, until then, she told us was what she wanted.

The full implications of leaving the EEA were never explained in the referendum campaign, and they have never been understood by our politicians since. But in eight months time, they will begin to be brought home to us. To put it mildly, we will not be happy.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 22.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

  • I had a sneaking suspicion that the (very few) PP party 'activists' voting for a new leader wouldn't go for either of the female candidates. Sure enough, they elected the much-lower-profile, less-experienced Pablo Casado. Maybe because he isn't tainted as much with the endemic corruption of the party over the last god-knows-how-many decades. Or maybe merely because he has cojones.
  • As I suspected, the judge who's furious with the German court for insulting him, the Spanish judicial system and, indeed the entire nation was born in 1963 and attended school, college and university during the decades before and after Franco's death. One can be sure that his (far?)right-wing views are impeccable. Here's his Wiki page.
Life in Spain
  • It's commonly said the Spanish don't do tipping, in contrast with the Americans who suffer guilt pangs if they don't leave 20-25%. I thought of this yesterday when I saw that the folk before me at my table had left 10 centimos on a bill of €8. Or 1.25%. Not uncommon. Fortunately there's no longer a 5 centimos coin.
The UK: Brexit
  • After 2 years of farce and government incompetence, these seem to be the basic camps in the UK:-
- Leaver pessimists: Knowledgeable people like Richard North who've always supported a flexible, progressive exit - in his case the Flexit. North et al believe the chance for this has gone. Also in this box is the writer of the article below, who believes that chaos will ensue primarily because the the Commission has made a succession of bravura mistakes, rooted in arrogance and ignorance of the strength of the British commitment to its own democratic institutions and the character of its people.
- Remainer pessimists: These fear that Hard Brexiteer fanatics (led by Jacob Rees-Mogg) will ensure a failure to reach agreement with Brussels, leading to an apocalypse when the UK crashes out of the EU next year.
- Leaver (and some Remainer) Optimists: For example, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian. These believe that common (and business) sense will prevent a No Deal Brexit and lead to last-minute compromises which will avoid chaos and allow things to carry on more or less as before. Possibly on the EEA or EEA/Efta model. One of which might or might not be the Norway Option increasingly being talked about by all sides. How much this resembles North's Flexit, I suspect only he could say.
- Remainer Optimists: These believe that Mrs May now has no chance of getting any option through parliament (for which, ironically, they thank the Hard Brexiteers such as Rees-Mogg) and that the UK government will have no option but to swallow humiliation and stay in the EU. Possibly after another referendum which reverses the result of the last one.
  • As for me, I've always been an optimist along the line of Jenkins, and I find his column persuasive. But I know that Richard North is far more knowledgable than anyone else commenting on this saga. And he has rejected the panglossian Jenkins view thus: If people really had the first idea of what "no deal" actually meant, in detail, there would be such a storm of protest that no politician could even think of pursuing this line. But as long as they have their heads in the sand and, with the complicity of the media, practice mushroom management on the rest of us, the coming disaster will be on us before the majority realise how damaging it will be. So . . . . On balance, I fear pandemonium next year. But I'd have to be stupid to bet on any particular outcome. Unless the odds were fantastic and a tiny outlay could bring me a small fortune.
Russia and The USA
  • In the context of his (secret) discussions with Putin, Trump has taken to citing 'security for Israel'. The suspicion is that this is a softening-up of the electorate in advance of the announcement of a deal with Russia over Syria. Leaving Assad in power, of course.
  • Meanwhile . . . The federal indictment of Maria Butina, charged with being a Russian agent, has attracted plenty of media attention this week — but mostly for the wrong reasons. Many stories about her case have been filled with salacious allegations about her sex life . . . What has been missing in the media narrative is the indictment’s ominous significance. The Butina case is almost certainly the opening move in a brand new front in the Trump-Russia investigation. And there's a Spanish connection. Read about it here.
  • Here's El Pais on the subject of phony camino signs. Porriño gets a mention.
  • Yesterday, I tried a new place for my pre-prandial coffee at 12. It took 15 minutes to arrive and, at €1.50, was the most expensive I've had outside Madrid. Possibly because it's on said camino. Won't be going there again.
Finally . . .
  • Twice in the last week or so, one of my neighbours has asked me to go and wake up her son as he was late for college. I could do this because their back door was open. Last night, the son in question asked me if he could pass through my house and garden to get to his house. He confirmed that their back door is always unlocked. I wish the bastards who broke into my house by removing my kitchen window had known that.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 22.7.18


The EU's rejection of our final offer is a disastrous move that exposes the arrogance at its core:  Janet Daley

So presumably this is it. We have finally arrived at the end – or the beginning of the end – of our spectacular game of chicken with the EU. It must be clear now who is prepared to sit longest on the track in the path of the oncoming train. Michel Barnier has thrown out what Mrs May claimed was her last and best offer. He will not bend, perhaps having been misinformed by hubristic Remain campaigners that the political discontent in Westminster will cause her to give way. But she will not – cannot – retreat because she knows the real truth about Westminster and the electorate.

This ending, however, still has the capacity for mystery and re-interpretation. There are serious signs of illogic and derangement where you might have least expected them. Theresa May, under as much pressure as seems humanly endurable, remains weirdly calm – at least in public – while the immaculate Michel Barnier appears suddenly to have lost his way, or at least to be sending out confused signals. How else to explain the EU Commission’s (which is to say, Mr Barnier’s) odd decision to warn, in characteristically apocalyptic terms, of the consequences for the EU of a no-deal Brexit?

What a cataclysm that would be, the Commission exclaimed, in the terms it is accustomed to use when addressing feckless British negotiators. Established trade arrangements would break down. Britain would lose its access to thriving markets. Just think of the chaos and collapse that would follow for that hapless country. Oh, wait. Actually that argument applies on the other side of this negotiation too: the peoples of the EU, we can now disclose, have a very great deal to lose. Hence last week’s unprecedented set of warnings to the households and businesses of Europe, as the prospect of no-deal becomes more and more plausible – thanks largely, as Mr Barnier did not say, to the intransigence of the EU Commission.

The guidance warned of the enormous cost in lost sales, reduced trade, slower growth and higher tariffs. Billions in national export income would be threatened just as thousands of expensive new customs procedures would need to be instituted. So tumultuous and far-reaching would these consequences be that every family and every enterprise in Europe must begin now to make contingency plans (detailed instructions enclosed) for this dire eventuality.

So for once, the alarming message is not being directed at the UK - whose fate Mr Barnier has presumably written off - but to those member states of the EU who are generally regarded as its greatest and least critical enthusiasts.

Once again the ghost of Project Fear stalks the land, only this time it is dragging its chains through the very heartland of the European project. Yes indeed, it is not the usual malcontents of the Visegrad East or the Club Med who face the greatest economic cost from the UK crashing out but the stalwarts of EU solidarity: the French, the Dutch, the Germans and – good grief – the Irish, on whom so much negotiating capital has been spent.

Could it be that, quite suddenly, it has occurred to the EU Commissioners that pushing the UK government to the brink and beyond, so that no-deal becomes the only politically possible option, might not have been so clever? Mr Barnier, in his statement last Friday, may have presented the expected categorical rejection of the UK government’s White Paper on the predictable grounds – that it abrogated the integrity of fundamental EU principles – but he also implied that this need not be the end of the story. (More work to be done, more discussions to be had, always further possibility of agreement, blah-blah.)

What are we to make of this? For the Commission to dismiss the White Paper, which blatantly engaged in “cherry-picking” bits of the single market and transgressed the sanctified free movement rule, was to be expected. But why couple that with a calculated campaign to spread alarm and despondency among European states about the most likely result – a no-deal exit? It is just possible that the Commission (like its Remainer friends here) is genuinely confused and worried: it has over-played its hand and must now try to prepare the ground for the ensuing calamity by implying that this ending was inevitable. We were, they might be preparing to say, just upholding the precious Fundamental Principles: the resulting damage isn’t our fault. Who knew that the British would be so intransigent? To judge by the latest statements from the Commission’s best friend, Leo Varadkar, the EU mood has become vaguely hysterical. As the Brexit Blog has noted, Dublin’s threat to ban British planes from flying through Ireland’s airspace would, carried to its logical conclusion, mean that Mr Varadkar would have to take a boat to future EU summit meetings. Has everyone gone mad?

There are a very small number of plausible explanations for these events. One is that the EU Commission (which is to say Mr Barnier and possibly Jean Claude Juncker, at least before lunch) are engaged in a rational, calculated effort to establish that they always understood the risks of their own hard line in these negotiations: the outcome may have been regrettable but it could not have been avoided given the need to preserve the Fundamental Principles. I would give that account seven out of ten on the scale of likelihood.

Another possibility is that they are actually preparing the ground for some major concessions to Britain by scaring the living daylights out of all those French farmers, Italian olive oil producers and German car makers who, as they now admit, have so much to lose. That seems to me to rate no more than one out of ten, since a climbdown of this order would be a gross humiliation for Team Barnier. Then of course, there is the most likely explanation of all: that the Commission has been in bad faith all along. That it made a succession of bravura mistakes, rooted in arrogance and ignorance of the strength of the British commitment to its own democratic institutions and the character of its people.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 21.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

  • See the Guardian article below, headed: Why Barcelona is a street crime hotspot – and how to beat the thieves. 
  • Dear god! Judge Llarena has criticised German judges for their “lack of commitment” to justice. How dare these ignorant Krauts disagree with me! I suspect the judge grew up in the Franco era and is a member of Opus Dei. But just guessing.
  • Here are some points from this article by Vicent Partal on 'Spain's eccentricity'. In it, he tries to explain why the authoritarian temptation is so strong in Spain. Main reasons:-
- The dictatorship’s state, now disguised as a democracy, has no incentive to effectively function as one
- In fact, it has every incentive to carry on using Francoism’s worst methods.
- People believe that their will is subservient to the law.
- Spain’s political parties are compliant machines devoid of internal democracy.
- The royals can thieve like there is no tomorrow with utter impunity.
- Judges are under no obligation to think in legal terms, but in political ones.
- There are issues which the general public have no right to put forward, not even for debate.
Finally, he tries to explain why Spain’s political leaders react the way they do when they get slapped in the face as hard as they did with the German ruling - reminiscent of the way the Franco regime reacted when it was ostracised by the UN at the end of WWII: with machismo and contempt for the international community.
Strongish stuff.
  • The article mentions aforados. This is a legal term referring to those, such as high-ranking politicians, who are protected from prosecution in the lower courts. There are thousands of these in modern Spain, left over from the Franco era and earlier.
  • Yesterday I suggested high commissions might help Madrid sell their very expensive sub. I was reminded of this possiblity later in the day when reading of sales of warships to Saudi Arabia.
  • Here's more on the scandal of Spanish wine being sold as French.
Life in Spain
The EU
  • A cruel cartoon of  Jean Claude Drunker I received from a German friend . . .

Russia and The USA
  • Politics certainly is a dirty business. Reports are that as much as $50 million in Russian money went to the NRA, no doubt through a labyrinth of shell corporations and third-party groups, which then spent $35 million in support of Trump’s campaign to become president. More here.
  • Will Hurd, a former CIA officer who is now a Republican congressman, wrote in The New York Times yesterday: Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the CIA, I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.
  • But, of course, it's not Russia but the Fake Media which is 'the enemy of the people'.
  • See below a Times article entitled: President Trump and Russia - the back story. Nothing new, of course.
  • Interesting to see that the Guardia Civil are clamping down on offences committed by cyclists, such as riding under the influence of alcohol or drugs (or both), or not wearing a helmet. This, though, only applies to cyclists who actually venture onto the road. Neither the Guardia nor the various local police forces are disposed to doing anything about cyclists who prefer the pavement.
  • More on our drugs trade here
Finally . . .
  • If I'd ever known it, I'd forgotten that the Brittonic/Celtic word aber meant river mouth. As in Aberdeen, Aberavon, Abergele, etc. Likewise inver, as in Inverness.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 21.7.18


1. Why Barcelona is a street crime hotspot – and how to beat the thieves

After Patrick Collinson’s tale of mugging, we look at how robbers get away with it, and readers share their experiences

Much as Barcelona would love to shed its reputation as the bag-snatching capital of Europe, it is not in the gift of the city authorities to do much about it. Under Spanish law, if you steal something worth less than €400 (£357) it’s a falta (misdemeanour), not a delito (crime). If you are caught, you will be fined, probably around €50, but however many times you re-offend, it remains a misdemeanour and as an offence it is not cumulative.

As a result, the thieves, who mostly operate in groups, do so with a sense of impunity, seeing the fines as little more than a tax. Understandably, the police find it demoralising, knowing that when they arrest a culprit he/she will be back on the street within hours.

There have been moves to change the law but the legal system is so bogged down with serious cases it has yet to proceed, and there is little appetite for further burdening the system by making bag-snatching and pickpocketing crimes. All the city authorities can do is warn people of the risks.

They have also made it easier to make a claim – necessary for insurance purposes. Before you could only do this by spending hours at a police station but it is now possible to do it online. The website is available in a variety of languages.

For most Barcelona residents, it’s a source of shame. Friends come to visit, you tell them the dos and don’ts, and still they get robbed – the young, the elderly, in the street, on the metro, queuing to visit some sight. It’s a plague.

Most of us warn people when we see them putting themselves at risk. And yet, despite all the warnings, in guide books and websites, over the public address system at the beach and on the metro, in several languages, we see so many people with their wallets in their back pockets, handbags draped over the back of the chair in a bar, or a camera or mobile on the table, and you think, well, what did you expect?

We sought a response from Tourisme de Barcelona and from the Ajuntament de Barcelona but as Guardian Money went to press had not received a reply.

How to beat the robbers

Lots of people responded to last week’s story with advice for holidaymakers, especially those going to Barcelona.

Margot, who has a house just north of Barcelona, said: “No handbags. Never leave a rucksack or bag in the floor in a cafe or restaurant – you can buy hooks for attaching them to tables. Use money belts for keys, cards and cash. Never stop if anyone asks for directions, or if anyone offers to remove bird excrement from you. Never have a wallet in front or back pockets.”

Many people recommended money belts. Many also suggested you keep a secondary wallet with valueless goods to hand to muggers, including Ducksis: “Carry your cash and credit cards in a money belt, but have a cheap plastic wallet filled with Monopoly money and old membership cards in your back pocket. Shout but don’t fight back.”

Many recommend taking photocopies or phone pictures of your essential documents. “I keep a photo of my passport and driving licence on my phone, and as email attachments. I know that itself carries some risks, but for me, the pros outweigh the cons,” said one holidaymaker to Turkey.

Others say place everything in your wheelie bag until you get to your hotel. “Just put your easily pickpocketable goods in your suitcase and then lock it until you get your hotel, from where you can organise the cash you carry by day, so your wallet isn’t bulging out of your front pocket,” said BoyoUK.

2. President Trump and Russia — the back story: The Times

• Donald Trump’s first visit to Moscow was in 1987, his expenses paid by the Soviets. “One thing led to another,” he wrote in The Art of the Deal. “Now I’m talking about building a luxury hotel across from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government.”

• The hotel never happened but that year Mr Trump took out a full-page ad: “An open letter from Donald J. Trump on why America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves.”

• It is believed that bankruptcies cut Mr Trump off from US finance. “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,” his son, Eric, said in 2014.

• A dozen Russians with alleged crime links bought property from Mr Trump. “The Russian market is attracted to me,” he said in 2013.

• Several associates, including Michael Flynn, the security adviser he fired, had links to the Kremlin, pro-Moscow forces or Russian mafia. Mr Flynn sat next to Mr Putin at a dinner in 2015.

• In 2013 Mr Trump took his pageant, Miss Universe, to Moscow. He tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going [. . .] if so, will he become my new best friend?”

• The 2013 trip features in an unsubstantiated dossier of allegations collated by Christopher Steele, an ex-MI6 spy. James Comey, ex-FBI director, said Mr Trump was obsessed with a claim he was filmed in a Moscow hotel room watching prostitutes urinate on a bed Barack Obama had slept in.

• Mr Trump told Mr Comey he did not stay overnight in Moscow in 2013. US journalists found evidence he did.

• Kevin McCarthy, a senior Republican, said in 2016: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: [congressman Dana Rohrabacher] and Trump.”

• In January 2016, Mr Trump tweeted: “I have nothing to do with Russia — no deals, no loans, no nothing”

Friday, July 20, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 20.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

  • Now that the Spanish government's policy is no longer to show the Catalans how macho and stupidly short-sighted it can be, the local political parties have – inevitably – returned to their usual internecine infighting. It shouldn't be too long before it's safe to give the Catalans a legal referendum on independence, in the confidence that the majority will have enough common sense to reject it.
  • Meanwhile, Spain has terminated the international arrest warrants against exiled Catalan politicians, having finally taken on board that other European countries have rather less right-wing definitions of the word 'rebellion'.
  • More information on that badly designed submarine. If you read the El País article you'll know that: Nobody is taking responsibility for the design flaw that has added nearly €1.8 billion to the final cost. In this article, the BBC reports a former Spanish official saying that at the time – 2013 - someone had put a decimal point in the wrong place, and "nobody paid attention to reviewing the calculations". Seems a tad unlikely. Surely. Anyway, it looks like the Spanish will have a hell of a job selling this craft to other countries. Unless the commissions are good, I guess.
Life in Spain
  • I went for my first visit to a Spanish court today. This happened after I'd called the clerk yesterday to say I wouldn't be able to come – as a witness - on the date set for next week. Given that Pontevedra court staff have been on strike for several months and that there's said to be an even-larger-than-usual backlog of cases, I was astonished it proved possible to re-set the appointment for early this morning. On arrival at the court, my first surprise was that it was not a hearing but only a declaration in front of the lawyer of the defendant in a suit (denuncia) brought by a friend of mine. My second surprise was that the clerk was taken aback that I arrived at the appointed time. My third surprise was that, apart from the details of my own identity and address (already on their files), I had to give the names of my parents. Which wasn't really a surprise, of course; I've been here almost 18 years. But it made me laugh. Until we got to the usual confusion about forenames and surnames. Anyway, I did my bit and it was all over in less than half an hour. As to whether the denuncia will result in a trial, the clerk said she really didn't know if it would or wouldn't. And that - if it did - she had no idea when. Which was far more in accordance with my expectations than what had just taken place.
The UK: Brexit
  • There's some talk in the UK of a national government of all parties to take Brexit forward. As one columnist puts it this morning: This is, indeed, the best hopeless idea anyone has had at any point in this sorry saga. A national government has a lot to be said for it and just the one drawback, which is that it is entirely inconceivable. 
  • Because: The country is horribly divided on whether it is in a state of crisis; it cannot agree on what it is trying to achieve and it has endless ways of achieving these many objectives, none of which appear to work. 
  • In short: All the things that make a national government desirable are the things that prevent it happening.
  • Meanwhile, the initial reaction of Brussels to Mrs May's White Paper has been to laugh at it for being: 1. Totally unacceptable, and 2. Full of stupid translation errors in 27 languages. But not Irish, as there wasn't one. Which has rather annoyed Dublin, even though there's probably not a single Irish politician who speaks the language.
  • Only a truly great country would have/permit comedy programs as good as this one.
  • I guess we all know now about the Russian woman who used both the NRA and the National Prayer Breakfast to infiltrate the upper echelons of US society. I have to admit I thought the latter was a small annual meeting of religious nuts which took place in the presidents' office. But, no, it turns out to be a huge event, run by an alarmingly secret Christian organisation called The Fellowship. The stated purpose of which is: To provide a forum for decision makers to share in Bible studies, prayer meetings, worship experiences, and to experience spiritual affirmation and support. As if. In reality, it's a powerful lobby group.
  • After a plenary meeting of the council, Pontevedra has become a non-taurine city. I'm not sure what this means for our annual bullfights, scheduled for August. Tickets are on sale for this year but will there be any in the future? Probably.
  • Ahead of a disciplinary meeting, the judge in Vigo who runs a fortune-telling business on the side volunteered a couple of days ago that a reading of her Tarot cards had revealed that her future as a member of the judiciary would shortly be brought to an end. Wrong so far. Her fear of being suspended after the preliminary hearing proved unfounded. But maybe the cards will prove correct in the fullness of time. They should.
  • If there's anything worse than the pigeons which infest the city's squares, it's the idiots who feed them. At the next table to me yesterday, there was a couple of senior citizens doing this. While the husband fed them bits of bread, the wife made a video of his crime. I was sorely tempted to use my cane on both the pigeons and the couple but decided that neither of these actions would probably go down well. So, I left.
  • As it happens, the local papers today report that the council is having some success in reducing pigeon numbers. For example by preventing them from nesting and catching them in cages on the roofs of flat blocks. Good news, indeed. But I suspect the attempts to sterilise the bastards wasn't successful.
  • Still on the subject of birds . . . An odd item in today's papers tells of 2 adult and 7 Nile geese chicks walking through the centre of town. But not after coming up from the river. They flew out of the window of a 6th floor flat. Keeping geese in a flat strikes me as even more idiotic than feeding the bloody pigeons. And that's saying something.
Finally . . .
  • Still on birds . . . . You'll guess that I have sympathy for the man in Weston-super-Mare in the UK who - objecting to a seagull stealing one of his chips - grabbed it by its feet and swung it against a wall. The police, though, aren't at all sympathetic and have issued a description of the man so they can prosecute him. The good news is that the seagull died.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 20.7.18

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 19.7.18

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. Garish but informative.

As usual on a Thursday morning, I'm indebted to Lenox Napier of the comprehensive Business over Tapas for some of the following items.

  • Spain's civil war ghosts:
  1. It looks like the disinterment of Franco's remains won't take place this month. And, if some senior prelate retains a veto, it might well be some time before this happens. Meanwhile, Spain's rump of Francoists is revolting.
  2. Queipo de Llano was possibly the most sadistic of Franco's generals, responsible for 50,000 executions in Sevilla. His body lies in a church there which he had constructed. But the Brotherhood of La Macarena has finally agreed to the moving of his remains from an honoured place to a normal burial area. Quite why the Catholic Church thinks it should remain in one of its places of worship is beyond me. Perhaps it thinks he made a deathbed act of repentance and this makes everything OK.
  3. Slow progress is being made of ridding Spain of street names which commemorate not only Franco 'heroes' but also, would you believe, the Spaniards who fought with the Nazis.
  • Talking of rebellions . . . The Spectator magazine fears that Spanish tolerance for illegal immigrants will surely wane over time, leading to the sort of populism now seen elsewhere in Europe. Says the journal: The number of migrants who crossed from North Africa to Spain tripled last year, and the numbers for 2018 are set to rise even higher. Nearly 20,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in the first six months of the year – nearly as many as claimed asylum in the whole of 2017. . . . There may come a time when the Spanish public gets tired of being Europe’s latest welcome mat for tens of thousands of people trying to flee Africa.
  • And talking of the civil war, here's The Local's list of the 14 best books on this.
  • Here's The Guardian on steps being taken by the new government to bring Spain's obsolete laws on sexual violence into line with those of other Western states. 
  • Good to see it's not only the British defence establishment that gets its number extravagantly wrong. Sometimes through pure negligence. Twice in this case.
Life in Spain
  • If you're renting out rooms here, you should know that, next January, Airbnb et al will have to give the Spanish tax office (the Hacienda) details of all 2018 activities and then update this every 3 months.
  • Here's some relevant advice for non-residents on the renting out of holiday properties here.
  • To be more positive . . . Whether you live here or are just visiting, here's The Local's advice on Spain's 10 most beautiful beach towns.
The UK: Brexit
  1. Well, it looks like – in the face of a No Brexit outcome to the folly of the last couple of years – opinion is moving in favour of Richard North's long-standing EEA/Efta Flexit option. Which is possibly what is now being labelled “the Norway option”. Here, for example, is what one commentator said yesterday: Remaining in the EEA would enable the UK to continue trading goods and services freely within the EEA. But we would not be in the EU, thereby fulfilling the mandate of the referendum. This is not anti-Brexit and is supported by many Leavers: Norway is not a vassal state. Clean-break Brexiteers may not like it but their alternative is no longer feasible. The EEA option can command a parliamentary majority and prevent a meltdown. I'll report tomorrow on North's reaction to this outbreak of common sense, which is possibly too late.
  2. Meanwhile, here's advice on the key points of May's White Paper for us Brits resident in the EU.
  • Here's a Private Eye cartoon of a week or two ago:-

Clearly wrong; there never was any risk for Putin. He came up smelling of roses. And triumphant. Though this was hardly a tough challenge.

  • Lenox Napier advises of false camino signs aimed at diverting 'pilgrims' past bars and restaurants, for example outside Ponferrada. This has been going on for years near Porriño, between Tui and Pontevedra, after the original route was changed so you didn't have to walk through a large industrial park. There have even been reports of fisticuffs between bar-owners on the old and new routes.
  • Interesting to see that a spa centred on vinoterapia is being set up in Leiro. I must check this out. My existing wine therapy might turn out to be inadequate. I know Leiro well for its excellent Viña Mein ribeiro white wine. This grape was well known centuries ago in the UK, well before albariño replaced it in popularity. Exports were a victim of the War of the Spanish Succession in the early 18th century.
Finally . . .
  • As with both the author of the article I cited yesterday and reader Maria, I too learned things about the English language from folk trying to master it. An Iranian friend asked me years ago how we formed the plural of nouns. With S, I replied. “Really, he retorted. “So, how do you say the plural of 'house'? Or 'dog'? As opposed to, say, 'cat'.
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 19.7.18

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