Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in SpainSpanish Politics
- Someone has come up with a brilliant alternative to the problematic option of burying the Franco bones in Madrid . . . Instead, put them in the basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Sadly, though, this might just create another problem or ten. That said, the idea is so stupidly provocative, it'll probably become the official strategy of the Francoist Vox party.
- To rent or buy in Spain? Here's the answer.
- Here's a 10m history of the region. Even if you don't understand Spanish, the pictures will be enough.
- The demolition of illegal properties in the region is said to have reached an historical high. Given the number of these, this might not actually be a big number in absolute terms.
- See the first article below.
- I fear the utterly bored British nation will commit collective suicide before the end of October.
- The next G7 meeting will be in a Ffart Miami 'facility'. He just doesn't care, does he? Nor his core supporters. Even Fox News has criticised it.
- Says Niall Ferguson: Elizabeth Warren had a serious chance of becoming president. But, if you factor in social media, she will probably lose to Trump. And the same goes for anyone else the Democrats might choose to nominate. The reason is that Brad Parscale’s digital campaign for Trump is already miles ahead. See NF's full article below.
- UK police forces are recording suspected and convicted rapists as female if they no longer wish to identify with their male birth sex. Six forces disclosed that if someone is arrested for or convicted of rape, the official record will state the gender they chose to identify themselves as.
- If you haven't done so already, see the article below.
- Spanish is consolidated the 2nd most spoken language in the world. 580m people, 7.6% of the world's population, speak our language. Of these, 483m - three million more than a year ago - are native Spanish speakers. In addition, almost 22m people study Spanish in 110 countries. It is the third most used language on the internet, where it has great growth potential.
- I see quite a few young people driving very expensive cars in the UK. These can be bought for around €500 month over some years on a PCP scheme. Yesterday it struck me that this is probably less than a day's (untaxed) income if you're dealing. Along country lines. A rapidly growing problem, it's said.
1. Johnson's Brexit deal leaves me utterly depressed, even though I would grimly vote for it: Ambrose Evans Pritchard, Daily Telegraph.
So we await the next Brexit cliff-edge in 14 months. Project Fear will repeat itself. Even if Parliament backs the Johnson deal, we will have to go through this painful ordeal again.
The Withdrawal Agreement merely permits the UK to start talks on a trade deal. It lets us pay £33bn in order to play. Less has been resolved that most commentary seems to suggest.
I fear a horrible moment of disappointment when people discover what this means. I fear too that hopes of a post-deal economic boomlet and a surge of pent-up investment will come to little. Businesses still have no clarity.
The current state of limbo will cause multinationals to continue unwinding their manufacturing supply chains. This risks bringing about the very GDP slippage that the Remain academy keep predicting.
The hated level-playing field clauses in the May deal - hated because they turn the UK into a legal and regulatory colony of the EU - have been removed. But be careful. The Political Declaration is clear: we will have to agree to these clauses anyway in order to secure a free trade deal. That is how the EU will try to keep us in the cage.
We will again be faced with the choice of submitting to these demands or retreating to WTO trading terms - made harsher by the punitive loss of fast-track procedures for customs clearance and rules of origin. We will again hear warnings of “crashing out” with no trade deal. Stories of 15-mile lorry jams across Kent will be recycled. Vested interests will re-stoke hysteria.
We will be vulnerable to the same diplomatic and economic blackmail. In the words of Sir Ivan Rogers, the former UK Brexit negotiator, the EU’s aim has always been to “maximise leverage during the withdrawal process and tee up a trade negotiation after our exit where the clock and the cliff edge can again be used to maximise concessions from London - so that they have the UK against the wall again in 2020”.
Sir Ivan is brutally honest - and correct - about the character of the EU and its proto-imperial reflexes. While he may not have intended it, his analysis leads only to two conclusions: revocation of Article 50; or a traumatic no-deal rupture that reshuffles the pack entirely. Anything in between these two is not a stable political equilibrium and is ultimately unworkable.
This is not to criticise Boris Johnson. He was dealt a bad hand. The original sin of Brexit talks was to let the EU dictate sequencing and separate with Withdrawal Agreement (and the exit fee) from the future trade deal. Perhaps Article 50 made this unavoidable.
Given the limitations, the Prime Minister has pulled off a diplomatic victory of sorts. As I argued yesterday, this was possible only because the EU itself is acutely vulnerable to an economic shock at this juncture. It is close to recession and it has no monetary defences left against a deflationary vortex if mistakes are made.
But again be careful. You can interpret the exuberant back-slapping at the EU Council on Thursday in different ways. Relief at avoiding a no-deal - yes, certainly - but also satisfaction that Brussels now has the UK more or less trapped.
This may be too gloomy. Boris Johnson may soon win an election and possibly a landslide - unless this Rotten Parliament refuses to allow a vote and succeeds abusively in forcing him to remain in office, a political prisoner with no working majority and no effective government.
If he does win, the negotiating dynamic with Brussels will be different in 2020. The EU will not be able to play off Westminster tribes against each other so easily. The cliff edge for the UK will be less severe since the May/Johnson deal does resolve a string of technical issues such as nuclear ties under Euratom or landing rights for aircraft, etc.
This makes a WTO walk-out more plausible, and therefore more menacing for the EU as it tries to preserve its £95bn trade surplus with the UK (while offering no reciprocal access for services, of course).
It may also be clearer by then that the EU is in deep economic trouble. Citigroup’s recession barometer for the US over the next year has risen to 70pc. The New York Fed’s indicator is a whisker shy of its peak before the Lehman crisis. If the US rolls over - and the underlying data from China is getting worse too - the eurozone will face a combined banking crisis and an industrial car crash. This changes the psychology.
Besides, the Labour Party has made an error by demanding ‘dynamic alignment’ with the EU’s environmental and labour laws, implicitly telling the British people that this country is incapable of setting its own laws and running its own policy. What happened to the once-great patriotic Labour Party?
In reality the UK has been a star performer in environmental policy over the last decade. Its carbon floor price has driven coal out of the power market, in contrast to German reliance on coal. The UK has committed to a vast expansion of offshore wind. It is the first major state to write a net zero emissions target by 2050 into law.
It will become clearer over the next year that Boris Johnson is outflanking Labour with his own green agenda - though a free-market, pro-growth variant - and that he may go some way in shooting Labour’s fox on worker protection as well. For one thing that the EU certainly is not, is pro-worker, whatever the Social Chapter purports to be.
It is a corporatist regime that lets companies exploit wage arbitrage and carry out cross-border plant relocations to hold down wages. That is why the Swiss trade unions oppose their country’s EU deal. They say it degrades Swiss protection policy. Why is Jeremy Corbyn never probed on this?
So yes, British and European politics may look different in a year. Everything is fluid. Sometimes you have to take the Guicciardini approach to life: accepting that seemingly intractable problems often fade away before they reach you. The Machiavelli reflex of trying to pre-empt every hazard can make matters worse.
I agree with the verdict of Martin Howe from Lawyers for Brexit that the flawed Johnson deal is a “tolerable price to pay for our freedom” and I would vote for it stoically tomorrow if I were an MP. But be under no illusions: the long struggle is just beginning.
2. Donald Trump could Facebook himself a second term: Niall Ferguson, Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford
Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to free speech is good news for the president.
An unusual thing happened last week. Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech with which I mostly agreed. Regular readers will know that I have frequently criticised the chief executive of Facebook. My book The Square and the Tower contains some harsh words about his company — and particularly its conduct in the fateful election year of 2016.
However, speaking at Georgetown University in Washington last week, the Facebook co-founder took a stance on the issue of free speech that pleasantly surprised me. First, he got his history right. “Giving everyone a voice,” he argued, “empowers the powerless” whereas “the most repressive societies have always restricted speech the most”. Correct. “Pulling back on free expression . . . often ended up hurting the minority views we seek to protect.” Also correct.
Second, Zuckerberg recognised that the internet has fundamentally transformed the public sphere. We are no longer in the old world of newspapers, radio and television: “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society.”
I like the coinage of the Fifth Estate. In case you’ve lost track of those pre-French Revolution categories, the First Estate is — or was — the clergy, the second the nobility and the third the middle class. The fourth, the press, came later and should now be called the old media.
Pity me: I come from what little is left of the Third Estate and write for the fourth. The former is being hollowed out between the plutocratic “one per cent” and the populist masses; the latter is barely surviving the loss of advertising revenues to Facebook, not to mention Google. Small wonder that I have been a Zuckerberg critic. His Fifth Estate seems to have it in for both of mine.
The third and most important point of his talk was a trenchant defence of free speech. Facebook, he said, will “continue to stand for free expression, understanding its messiness, but believing that the long journey towards greater progress requires confronting ideas that challenge us”.
That will not mean applying a strict first amendment standard — remember, that binds only the government not to restrict speech — but something close to it. So far as possible, Facebook will not allow terrorist propaganda, child pornography, incitements to violence, misinformation “that could lead to imminent physical harm” and political messages by foreign bots masquerading as Americans. Otherwise, it will err on the side of free expression.
At a time when, not least in universities, there are ever-louder demands to prohibit “hate speech”, Zuckerberg’s opposition to the “ever-expanding definition of what speech is harmful” and his pledge to “fight to uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible” are very welcome. No trigger warnings. No safe spaces.
It is also refreshing to hear this affirmation of free speech at a time when the Chinese government is so clearly demonstrating the link from authoritarianism to censorship. It has been easy to criticise the National Basketball Association for its craven repudiation of the manager of the Houston Rockets, who had expressed his support for the Hong Kong protesters. That is the price of doing business in China. Last week I received the Chinese translation of The Square and the Tower. The sections on Chinese social and political networks were conspicuous by their absence. You either play by the Communist Party’s rules or you exit the Chinese market.
As Zuckerberg said in an interview last week, there is now a clear contest on the internet between “American companies and platforms with strong free expression values” and their Chinese rivals, which will censor whatever the government in Beijing tells them to. Right again.
The test of your commitment to free speech is how far you are prepared to tolerate not only views you disagree with — hate speech — but also views that are downright mendacious: fake speech. Last month Facebook unveiled a new policy not to moderate politicians’ speech or fact-check their political adverts. The policy was swiftly put to the test when Donald Trump’s campaign released a 30-second video advert accusing former US vice-president Joe Biden of corrupt conduct in Ukraine. When Biden’s campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused. Elizabeth Warren — Biden’s rival for the Democratic nomination — countered by creating a fake ad of her own that claimed Zuckerberg and Facebook had endorsed Trump.
Warren has called Facebook a “disinformation-for-profit machine”. If elected president, she has pledged to break the company up. But, like her European counterparts, she fails to see that in asking Facebook to decide which political ads air and which do not, she is implicitly ceding far more power to the company than it wants or should have. Do we want free speech on the internet, with all its nastiness? Or do we want censorship, which historically tends to be associated with a much more profound nastiness? To me, that’s an easy one.
Yet there is a price tag associated with a free-speech Facebook and we should not ignore it. The presidential election of 2020 will be only the third in which the internet has been the decisive battleground. And the internet will matter even more in 2020 than it did in 2016, when it mattered more than it did in 2012.
In my previous column I noted — on the basis not only of opinion polls but also of prediction markets — that Warren had a serious chance of becoming president. But I now want to argue that, if you factor in social media, she will probably lose to Trump. And the same goes for anyone else the Democrats might choose to nominate. The reason is that Brad Parscale’s digital campaign for Trump is already miles ahead.
According to data for the year up to September 19, published by The New York Times last week, the Trump campaign has spent $15.9m (£12m) on Facebook and Google ads, more than the total spent by the top three Democratic candidates combined. While the Democrats do old-school things such as debating on cable television, Parscale and his team are aggregating the mobile advertising IDs of the entire voting population, matching location data from phone usage to other information they have.
In my book I argued that Facebook — not Russia — was the crucial factor in the 2016 election. From June to November 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign spent $28m and tested 66,000 different ads. Working closely with Facebook, Trump’s people spent nearly twice as much ($44m) and tested nearly a hundred times more ads (5.9m).
Facebook — and Google — will matter even more next year. One side fully understands that and it is not the Democrats. Zuckerberg is right: it is not his job to come between Parscale and Facebook users. But we should all clearly understand what this means: it very probably means a second Trump term.
The Fifth Estate has indeed empowered the powerless. But not only them.