Monday, August 20, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 20.8.18

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.

Matters Spanish
  • You'd have thought that very high unemployment levels would have prevented this sort of thing. One of those alleged structural deficiencies?
  • Spain, warns the Guardian here, is heading for a toxically porcine future. With consequences for the already high consumption of water in a (mainly) hot and dry country. Not to mention the methane. And the nitrates. Still, the price of jamón might fall . . .
  • A warning about Spanish secret cults.
  • Impressive local initiatives.
The EU
  • The Commission is said to be toying with eliminating summer time. Many millions of citizens have commented on this idea.
  • Truth is not truth, insists Fart's lawyer, doing an excellent impression of Putin. What would you expect?
Social Media
  • How did digital technologies go from being instruments for spreading democracy to tools for undermining it? Or, to put it a different way, how did social media go from empowering free speech to becoming a cornerstone of authoritarian power? More here. And here.
  • If you want proof that social media is a performative space, then ponder this: 9% of UK Instagram users are buying outfits online just to photograph themselves in and then returning them to retailers.
Galicia and Pontevedra
  • August is not just the month when everywhere you turn there's a fiesta and fireworks; it's also the month when the main concern of the local newspapers is reportage on the bloody fiestas. At least in Pontevedra.
  • I do a lot of people-watching in summer, sitting outside my favourite water-hole. One of the regular features of the holiday traffic is a couple in their 40s with a bored looking teenage daughter tagging a metre or two behind. But rarely a teenage son. Wonder where they are? At football camp?
  • Hmm . . Arrests for drug possession in Pontevedra province in 2017 were - at 4,600 - 66% up on 2016.
  • One of those endless local news items . . . Centenarians here in Galicia currently number around 1,750. Within only 12 years, they're forecast to total 3,500. Double, for the non-numerate.
  • And another . . Among the 17 Spanish regions, Galicians complain most about electric companies' services.
  • And another . . . A cyclist is injured every 2 days here in Galicia.
Finally . . .
  • Do sparrows go north for the summer? Or south for the winter? I ask because the 30-40 who nest in my roof seem to have disappeared, leaving all the seed for the – increasingly chubby – collared doves and wood pigeons:-

© [David] Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 20.8.18

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 19.8.18

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.

Matters Spanish
  • Be warned, especially if you live in Aragon.
  • Renting out a flat in Madrid? Then read this.
  • So, Fart's planned military parade has been 'postponed' because he couldn't do a deal around it. He'll go to Paris for theirs instead. Lucky France.
  • Rather more serious is this development.
  • A counter blast: Those American commentators who wail [not 'whale'] that Trump is a dictator, destined to destroy democracy in their country, have lost their wits. For a start, he is limited to two terms in office. Second and more fundamentally, the US is a country ruled by laws, not by men; the founding fathers had a shrewd understanding of the risks of an imperial presidency. For example, the first amendment to the constitution makes it impossible for him to constrain the press — which is why the decision of 350 US publications last week to bemoan their treatment at his hands is so absurdly self-pitying. Being called “fake news” by a fabulist is not remotely the same as censorship. The robustness of American democracy stands in healthy contrast to personal dictatorships in China, Russia and Turkey.
  • Interesting, from the Carnegie Moscow Centre: A substantial part of Russia’s production capacity — more than 40% by some estimates — is both technologically and functionally obsolete and cannot produce competitive and marketable products. For instance, Russia’s machine stock has shrunk by almost half in the last 10 years . . . Over the next few years we can expect a decline in investment . . . This downward spiral will eventually lead the country to economic collapse. But the Winter Olympics and the World Cup were a huge success. Circuses?
  • By the by . . . Civic leaders in St Petersburg planned to pay tribute to Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, a French architect who designed a number of its neo-classical buildings in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, the sculptors confused him with Thomas Thomson, a Perthshire-born scientist with no special ties to Russia who was regius professor of chemistry at Glasgow university from 1818 to 1852. Oh, dear. But who the hell in Russia is ever going to know?
The UK
  • A monsoon today???!!! AGW??
  • Brexit: Richard North this morning: We have come to the point with Brexit where it now seems impossible to have an adult debate – leaving the various protagonists to regress into a series of infantile disputes which have nothing to do with the issues at hand. Part of this (in fact, most of this) is Mrs May's fault. Having failed throughout the process to offer leadership, she is now hanging on by her fingernails to an already discredited Brexit plan which leaves nothing for anyone else to support – or even discuss. In that political vacuum, virtually anything goes – but mostly tedium.
Galicia and Pontevedra
  • Mainly in the provinces of La Coruña and Pontevedra the police recently fined 3,000 drivers for speeding in just one week. Why am I not surprised? Ever more dedicated to acting as an arm of the Tax Office.
  • Talking of driving . . . I wrote recently of my normal cautious progress along the N550, watching the innumerable speed signs attentively. Not everyone does. Yesterday it was reported that a young man was clocked on this highway doing 140 in a 50kph zone. I suspect people like him don't worry too much about having a licence taken away. Or not having insurance.
  • Which reminds me . . . Road deaths in Galicia in July were 3 times higher than last year. No reasons adumbrated.
  • Beach-combing can be very profitable along our 'Cocaine Coast'. A 2.2ko stash of the stuff washed up one of our beaches this week.
  • Here in Pontevedra city, this is the latest 'mom and pop' store to close in the old quarter, after 57 years of family business. Although it's called The House of Umbrellas, it was in fact a rather old-fashioned clothes store. My bet is on yet another tapas bar. If it's not to be our nth 'jewellery outlet':-
Finally . . .
  • I see the father of Eleanor of Aquitaine died on the Camino de Santiago, in 1137. This was apparently quite common back in the 12th century. Seems an odd way for a god to behave, knocking off the faithful. Strange, indeed, are the ways of the Lord.
© [David] Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 19.8.18

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 18.8.18

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.

Matters Spanish
  • Here's a post-civil-war development that not everyone in Spain will be happy about.
  • And here's the reasons why some folk believe that Spain like Germany, needs millions of immigrants to secure her economic future.
  • Getting parochial . . . It's my experience that, if a shop hasn't got what you want, the almost invariable response to your question is a (seemingly) unfriendly, unhelpful and blunt 'No'. But, if you take the initiative and ask where you might get whatever it is, the response will be at the opposite extreme. As happened yesterday when I was directed, with much detail, to a haberdasher's which I actually pass 2-4 times a day. And this was from both the shop-owner and her adjacent father, talking simultaneously. The devil takes the hindmost in Spain. You have to take the initiative. Or, as I often put it, establish the personal connection that changes everything.
  • Lenox Napier touches on this impersonal/personal factor in this blog post. It shouldn't need stressing that Lenox has lived most of his life here and loves Spain. But not an admirer of the Mojácar council . . . 
  • From The Local again, on one reason to love Spain.
  • Nice to see the unanimous Senate resolution supporting the media.
  • Given the immense volume of (hilarious) satirical programs – not to mention the News shows - what will commentators do when Fart's left the scene? Cold turkey is surley inevitable. He'll be sorely missed. For these folk, the only thing worse than having him there will be not having him there.
  • Yesterday's quote from the man:- Honesty wins. Or, as he screramed it: HONESTY WINS. You have to laugh.
  • Did you see anything wrong with this sentence, from the article I cited yesterday, criticising the media on its mass protest about Fart's endless attacks on it/them? When the editorials roll off the press on Thursday, all singing from the same script, Trump will reap enough fresh material to whale on the media for at least a month.
The UK
  • There was a kerfuffle recently when the egregious Boris Johnson described burka-clad women as looking like a letter box. In the first article below, the editor of Britain's wonderful satirical Private Eye magazine insists there's very little that can't be joked about.
Galicia and Pontevedra
  • There've been 31 drownings so far this year here in Galicia. Seems a lot to me.
  • A chap I met on my recent camino walk told me he'd found it impossible to get a hotel room in Pontevedra city but had managed to get one in Motel Venus in my barrio of Poio, across the river. I told him, with amusement, that this - as the name and the colour of external decor suggested – was a 'love hotel', where rooms can be booked by the hour. I've just looked on Tripadvisor here, to see that this is classified as a 1-star hotel, despite charging €100-160 a night. Tellingly, there are no comments in English but all 11 Spanish-speaking commentators give it a Very good or Excellent rating. One even says it's a romantic place to surprise one's wife with. I bet it is. Her first surprise might be the window you have to pay at before a huge metal door slides open to let you into the car-park*. This has a fence around it which – as with all brothels in Spain – serves to prevent folk from seeing whose cars are in it. It takes all sorts.
* Discovered when I drove the chap to the place!

Finally . . .
  • For women, the nice second article below sets out 16 reasons why you should stop saying No,
© [David] Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 18.8.18


1. Ignore the modern puritans – history proves you should be allowed to joke about anything: Ian Hislop

There is a wave of earnestness about at the moment. If you look at the bulk of Twitterstormery – or even the letters page of my magazine, Private Eye – you’ll find people saying jokes about certain topics aren’t acceptable, saying humour isn’t helpful, saying “I am offended by this, and therefore you should shut up.” It’s all rather puritan.

I’m inclined to disagree. No topic should be out of bounds, so long as you can justify the point behind it. I have spent most of my life joking about serious things, and I believe humour can be helpful, especially when important issues are at stake.

Peter Cook used to make fun of the idea that satire could make a difference – after all, he said, those wonderful Berlin cabarets did so much to prevent the rise of Hitler. But through history there are examples of satire having a real influence, and particularly in England.

It might not bring a government down, but mockery can crystallise an opinion. Daniel Defoe said the end of satire is reform. He didn’t say it’s revolution, or armed protest. Rather, he thought you could make people behave better by laughing them into it, and that’s still an aspiration. That’s the British tradition, from the art of Hogarth and Cruikshank onwards.

It’s something I’ve thought about a great deal lately, while curating a new exhibition about dissent and protest at the British Museum. One exhibit they have – George Cruikshank’s banknote – actually saved lives (or so he later claimed).

He was one of the most famous artists of the early 19th century. At the time, they hanged people for making or accepting counterfeit notes. So he produced a note of his own, to tell the Bank of England what it was doing. It was signed by the hangman, with the pound sign as a rope, and a wonderful picture of Britannia eating her own children. He said, “Alright, here’s a counterfeit note – what’re you going to do about it?” It was fantastically successful, and the law was eventually changed.

That style of satire may be distinctly British, but the desire for dissent exists everywhere. There’s a bit of that spirit in all of us. At its most simple, it can be a workman defacing a brick in ancient Babylonia. At its most subtle, it’s the Chinese painting I was shown at the museum. To me, it was just a beautiful picture of two innocent-looking owls and it took half an hour’s explanation before I understood the references. It’s dissent alright, it’s just very, very well hidden.

Early in my life, I was very influenced by reading Juvenal, who was writing in Rome around 100AD. He writes this amazing whinge about how jockeys are paid an awful lot more than teachers. “I don’t know what sort of society we’ve ended up in where we pay entertainers and sportsmen huge amounts of money, but we don’t pay teachers properly.” When I read that, I thought, now this man I know – and he writes a column in a lot of papers.

I find it strangely cheering that there’s the same voice echoing across the centuries. In the exhibition, we have an 18th-century garter criticising the Rump Parliament, embroidered with “Down with Rump” – and a 21st-century “Dump Trump” badge.

Speaking of which, there are people who point to Trump and say satire is dead. “Look at him, you couldn’t make it up.” But clownish grotesques have been around forever. There are pieces in the museum’s collection which remind us that Mussolini was a buffoon long before he was ever seen as sinister.

Posing as a dissenter, or a disrupter, when you’re actually already an authority figure is nothing new. I was amused to find that one of the older exhibits in the museum is an inscribed clay tablet in which the king, Cyrus the Great, is saying of his vanquished predecessor, “Look, I’m just like you. Your king? He was rubbish – what you need is me.” I think Trump and Cyrus would have shared a point of view, in the way they use humour to attack people – and Cyrus’s stuff is funnier.

Much of the time, dissent is simply ordinary people finding ways to say “no” to the ones at the top. People in power tend to say to subversives, and satirists in particular, “Well, where’s your constructive alternative?” And we say, “I haven’t got one – that’s your job. The bit I do is saying ‘No.’” But it can be more complex than that. You can even have reactionary forms of dissent, supporting the status quo. For instance, in the exhibition, right next to a penny with “Votes for Women” on it, we also have a “No Votes for Women” badge.

There’s another wonderful exhibit at the museum, a Cleopatra oil-lamp, which is fairly obscene – she’s riding a crocodile. At first I thought, “That’s very interesting, this is classic dissent – they’re mocking an unpopular queen.” But the curator said, “Well, not really. This was produced by Cleopatra’s powerful enemies in Rome – Octavian and his group.” It was mass-produced! Yes, people didn’t like Cleopatra very much, but they were encouraged not to like her by a specific, top-down, Roman propaganda initiative. It’s always worth having a look to where the satire is coming from, and what it’s really being used for.

I don’t defend all jokes. There was a phase when it was popular for stand-up comics to have a go at disabled people. As an audience member, I thought, “I don’t understand that. Why is that funny?” You’re meant to be punching up, not punching down. It’s that universal desire to punch up – to blow a raspberry at the powerful – that unites everything from the defaced Babylonian brick to the fake British banknote.

It was HL Mencken, the great American satirist, who said we should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. So long as you try and do that, you have a licence to joke about almost anything.

2. Are you an over-apologiser? 16 things you should never say sorry for: Annabel Rivkin and Emilie McMeekan

The sorry thing is a nightmare. The sorry reflex. The sorry files. It’s a sorry state of sorry affairs. Women need to learn to stop saying sorry. We need to deal with the low-level but constant contrition. To take responsibility without the powerless remorse that we learnt… Where, when? It doesn’t matter, this isn’t a witch hunt (interesting that there is no such thing as a wizard hunt). But we are both compulsive apologisers. Or we were. But now we are so much less sorry. Hardly sorry at all. And certainly not sorry about:

1. Wearing whatever the hell we want: Floral-patterned jumpsuits that show our bras, enormous pants that cover everything from the belly button downwards, tracksuit bottoms that are as old as we are and even more distressed.

2. Not cleaning our cars: Filthy. Hair everywhere. Sweets and bits of crisp. Is it a car or a bin? We don’t have to answer that question.

3. Obsessing over highlighter: Oooh cheekbones, ooh shimmer, ooh shine, ooh dewy skin.

4. Saying no. No. Cannot. Do. This: We have no bandwidth left. Those adverts were right back then, and they are right now. ‘Just say no.’ To that meeting. Oh, and drinks party.

5. Looking like hell: For the days when we haven’t slept, the demons are there, the roof is leaking, the roots are being fixed tomorrow, we put hand cream on our face and we’re sweaty. Yes, we look stressed. We are stressed. It. Is. Stressful.

6. Independence: Not married? No children? Married? Children? Whatever. You are enough.

7. Wanting to take off our bras: Not in a ‘burny, smash-the-patriarchy’ kind of way. In a ‘thank God we are home and we don’t actually have welts’ kind of way.

8. Being a feminist: This time in a ‘burny, smash-the-patriarchy’ way.

9. Being angry: We’ve spent years suppressing our anger because you thought it wasn’t very becoming. Well, we are furious now. And the acknowledged fury is making us feel better.

10. Not responding  immediately to a text: Or a call or email for that matter. Everyone is constantly playing catch-up. NOT SORRY.

11. Putting ourselves first: Sometimes we just need to lie down on a pile of warm, clean laundry – that we haven’t done and that we are not going to put away – and sleep. Or have  25 baths. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

12. Wanting to make money: There comes a point when we suddenly become money hungry. Like a pound-starved Pac-Man. It hits us unexpectedly because we thought it didn’t matter to us and suddenly we start channelling Gordon Gekko, even though we know that he wasn’t a very nice man. We want an extension, goddammit.

13. How many people we’ve slept with: It doesn’t mean anything. Although we still regret the IT guy.

14. How many people  we want to sleep with: Sometimes the urge descends. It could be the butcher or someone from marketing or that bearded guy at the gym. Boeuf. And then just as quickly. Poof.

15, Not being sorry: It’s strange when something happens and, yes, in a certain light we might be in the wrong – but right now we are unrepentant. And that is OK. Until we wake up at 3am with THE FEAR. But at this moment, we are absolutely fine with it.

16. Taking a view: Yes, we worry about that horrible  tumbleweed moment when we say what we really think. But we have years of experience. Years and years (OK, don’t go on). We know what the heck we are talking about.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 17.8.18

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.

Matters Spanish
  • The BBC tries here to explain why Spaniards eat so late, why Prime Time TV starts at 22.30 and why the Spanish are always a tad tired. I have to say, I've seen the Franco development poo-poohed as a myth. Or at least as misleading. See also this Spanish Unlimited article of 2014 on the subject.
  • Here, from The Local, are 6 reasons why Benidorm is better than you think. It's not terribly convincing but the most important point is that, to get to 'better', you have to start with 'good'.
  • Are Airbnb et al driving up rents? Here's the answer of Spain's Competition Commission, which might surprise a few people.
  • Here's a chart of how Spain's 17 regions deal with the 'threat' of tourist flats. You don't have to be able to read Spanish to see that, as is often the case here, no 2 regions do exactly the same thing. So, maximum confusion. As with many tax matters. IGIMSTS:-
  • The Spanish indulge in a beach custom – found strange by some – of walking to and fro along the waterline. As here:-

Except for the Fuck-you woman in the chair, of course. Very Spanish . . . .
  • Another 'strange' Spanish custom centres on how they bury their dead. In 'niches'. Here's a lovely video from my friend Eamon in La Coruña, made in the cemetery there.

The EU
  • Here's the Guardian's view on Fart's war against the media.
  • And here's a very interesting negative perspective.
The UK
  • Politics: Is there really going to be a new left-of-centre party? See the fascinating article below.
  • Brexit 1: The belief in a second referendum is pure fantasy, says a Guardian columnist here.
  • Brexit 2: I wondered yesterday what Richard North would make of Ian Martin's 'No-deal deal' article in The Times. Here's his (unsurprising) response to this 'Pollyanna scenario'. Essentially: There can be no such thing as "no deal". We have to deal.
Galicia and Pontevedra
  • The architect who designed the dockside area in Vigo that partially collapsed last week – injuring nearly 400 people – is on the public record of 10 years ago complaining about neglect and the lack of inspections and maintenance. So, does this increase the chances that heads will roll? Almost certainly not, would be my guess. Latin societies such as those of Spain and Italy which are less litigious than Anglo societies don't seem to go in for that sort of thing. They prefer official enquiries which take years/decades and result in very little. Apart from increased public weary cynicism, of course.
Finally . . .
© [David] Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 17.8.18


Introducing Britain’s new political party: 
Matthew Goodwin, Professor of politics at the University of Kent and senior fellow at Chatham House: Author of the forthcoming book, “National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy”.

It’s not what Remainers are hoping for

You don’t have to spend long in Westminster before you hear someone talking about the possibility of a new political party emerging in the U.K.

The idea, inspired by the rise of French President Emmanuel Macron’s successful En Marche movement, is usually pictured as a club of disillusioned social liberals drawn from across the political landscape — think Labour’s Chuka Umunna and David Miliband on stage with the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable and Conservative Remainers like Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry, with a strategy overseen by veterans Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and George Osborne and communications by Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell.

For many on Britain’s liberal left, the idea is incredibly enticing. After all, the 2016 Brexit referendum not only marked the moment when those who wanted to leave the EU won but also the moment when, for the first time, London-based social liberals lost. Now that the shock has faded, many want to fight back.

But while a gap is indeed opening up in the British political landscape, a look at the latest voter data shows it’s unlikely to give rise to the Macronist party of Remainers’ dreams. To the contrary, Britain looks increasingly ready for a new far-right party, styled after Marine Le Pen’s National Rally.

It looks like Britain’s liberals have misdiagnosed the mood in British politics. Similar to mainstream politicians elsewhere in Europe, they are failing to grasp how the political winds are changing.

Consider the top issues that voters both feel concerned about and believe are not currently represented by the main parties. They are in descending order of importance, as ranked by respondents to a recent poll: (1) making the justice system harsher; (2) having tighter restrictions on immigration; (3) stopping military interventions in other countries; (4) introducing tougher regulation of big business; (5) reducing the amount of welfare; and (6), interestingly, leaving the European Union, which a sizeable number of voters do not believe is currently being delivered.

Unsurprisingly, these views are especially strong among Leave supporters and Conservative voters, who want to see the mainstream shift further to the right on these issues. In fact, no less than 35 percent of Leave voters hold at least four of these views, while only 11 percent of Remain supporters do.

This shopping list of unresolved concerns points not so much toward a new, anti-Brexit centrist party but rather a right-wing populist party that offers a combination of authoritarian positions on social issues, such as justice and immigration, and also interventionist positions on the economy, including opposing globalization and advocating more protectionist policies.

Such a party would be more “Trumpian” than “Blairite” — more like Le Pen’s National Rally than Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party.

Indeed, one could argue that what held Farage and UKIP back from exploiting their full potential is that, whereas many working-class voters agreed with the social offer on ending immigration and leaving the EU, lots of these voters remained deeply wary about UKIP’s economic position, which was basically Thatcherite — pro-business, pro-capitalism and at ease with free markets and globalization.

Had UKIP talked Le Pen’s language on economics — including the need to tame “savage globalization” and intervene in the economy to prioritize native workers — it’s likely the party would have done far more damage, particularly in Labour seats.

This new data also sheds light on why Theresa May, now embroiled in an almost daily battle for survival, was so wildly popular at the outset of her premiership. When May combined support for Brexit, restrictions on immigration and a promise to do more for workers and tackle “burning injustices,” she soared in the polls. But when it became clear that neither she nor the Conservative Party are serious about translating this talk into action, her approval ratings took a plunge. In the 2017 general election, many would-be Conservative voters stayed at home.

Had the Conservative Party gone into that election prioritizing Brexit, immigration reform and offering a suite of policies designed to rebalance the economy away from London and the “haves” toward the rest of the country and the “have nots,” the outcome would most likely have been very, very different.

Indeed, it is worth noting that in recent weeks nearly three-quarters of Leave voters have said they would be open to voting for “a party on the political right that was committed to leaving the EU,” as would nearly 70 percent of Conservatives. Around 80 percent of this group also backs tougher restrictions on immigration, and law and order. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for May’s party, and the prime minister will have to tread very carefully.

UKIP has jumped in the polls since May pushed through her soft-Brexit Chequers proposal, with grassroots Conservative associations voicing anger at what they consider a capitulation to Brussels on Brexit. This discontent could quickly escalate into a full-blown rebellion or, instead, an outbreak of mass apathy.

But, for May, there is a silver lining. These same voters would be instinctively receptive to a slightly modified message — a party that is traditionally socially conservative but also willing to intervene more seriously to strengthen the ladder of opportunity for the have nots.

It’s a fragile moment for the Conservative Party. It may find a way to redefine conservatism for a changing electorate. Or it could experience a major and perhaps irrevocable split. Either outcome appears equally plausible

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 16.8.18

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.

My apologies for not posting the cited article until later in the day yesterday. Undue haste.

  • News of a development in the Franco era stolen baby saga.
Life in Spain
  • I recently mentioned the string-holding manteros in Madrid. The Guardian reported on them on Tuesday, headlining that: Street vendors in major Spanish cities have found themselves at the centre of an immigration row, as rightwing political parties try to reverse their poll slump. The Popular party and the Citizens party – flailing since Pedro Sánchez’s socialist party came to power in June – have followed their attacks on migrant ships by targeting street vendors, the majority of whom are undocumented immigrants from west Africa. The Guardian says there might be more than 500 manteros in Madrid. Nearly all of them on Gran Vía, I suspect. More on this here. One nice comment: The irony is that, while Spaniards are rightly proud of their humanity in opening their ports to refugees, under the current immigration law most of the new arrivals will not be allowed to work legally and many will end up as 'manteros'. IGIMSTS.
  • Mr Trump's problems seem to be increasing by the hour. Couldn't be happening to a nicer guy. Are his days really numbered now? Especially as his lawyers seem to be singularly incompetent.
  • Meanwhile 1: Mr Trump justifies his revocation of the security clearance of the former CIA director John Brennan on the grounds that he's shown “questionable objectivity and credibility” and “erratic conduct and behavior,”. You have to laugh at this pot-kettle saga. Does Trump have any self-awareness at all? No need to answer that.
  • Meanwhile 2: A nice cartoon . . .

The EU
  • See the Ambrose Evans Pritchard article below on Italian developments and their implications. The fate of the eurozone, he says, now depends on a trial of strength between the Brussels-Frankfurt-Berlin axis and a ferociously-defiant Matteo Salvini. And: The eurozone has just two or three months to figure out how to handle the most dangerous revolt since the launch of monetary union, and what to do before the ECB stops buying Italian bonds. This has the makings of very hot autumn. Interesting times.
The EU and Brexit
  • Perfidious Brits?: The EU fears that they are being bugged by the British secret service after the UK obtained sensitive documents “within hours” of them being presented to a meeting of EU officials last month. Let's hope so . . . But: UK officials dismiss the European bugging concerns as “too imaginative”, arguing that there are plenty of sources of good information in the leaky Brussels bureaucracy. They would say that, wouldn't they?
The UK and Brexit
  • Says an optimist in today's Times who describes himself as 'a moderate Brexiteer who wants, or wanted, a sensible deal between Britain and the EU': Although the autumn talks are likely to end in deadlock there are encouraging signs a pragmatic solution can be found. This would be the no-deal deal in October. The starting point would be to agree a transition period, so that from March 2019 regulation can essentially stay the same for a limited period, giving business and security services on both sides certainty and time to prepare for no deal, or a free trade arrangement and security partnership in 2020. You then, from December to March, work quickly through each area: aviation, finance, pharma, security, with an emphasis on problem solving. And, I guess, with looming disaster concentrating minds on both sides of the divide. Well, since no one knows what's going to happen, I suppose anything is possible. And it might not be fatuous to hope/believe that common sense breaks out. I wonder how Dr North will react to it. By coincidence, he refers to the 'no deal deal' today as follows, in a post in which he dismisses out-of-hand another commentator's rose-tinted view of the current situation: Inexorably, we are headed for a "no deal" scenario, not as the result of any conscious policy decision, but simply because the UK government has run out of ideas, and doesn't know what to do next – "Death by default", so to speak. 
Galicia and Pontevedra
  • Some nice, if rugged, beaches in Galicia and neighbouring northern regions.
  • I thought I was having 'one of those shopping days' yesterday. All 4 places I went to to either buy a stamp or deposit some trousers for repairs were closed. As was the Post Office. Then it dawned on me that it was one of Spain's dozens of feast days. Dredging my ex-Catholic brain, I decided it was Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. Any excuse for a holiday.
  • Talking of holy folk . . . An American actor I've never heard of said this in an interview: My wife and I have plans to walk the Camino Santiago. It’s a path between Spain and Portugal that people say Jesus walked way back when. Someone needs to set him straight on a number of things. It's St James who's supposed by the credulous to have walked on Spanish, but never Portuguese, soil. And then to have returned, as a corpse, in an un-crewed, stone boat to our coast. Suggesting Jesus came here and walked through Pontevedra would surely stretch credulity beyond breaking point. Surely no one would believe that . . .
  • And turning to unholy folk . . . These 3 books, in the window of a shop opposite my regular bar, all relate to our vast drug-trafficking industry.  . . .

The one on the left is entitled Now it's my turn, and is penned by one of the more infamous clan heads. Who on earth would want to give this shit more money?

Finally . . .
  • Here's an an interesting suggestion . . . I think part of a best friend’s job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.
© [David] Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 16.8.18


Italy's bubbling bond woes are a bigger global threat than Turkey

The EU is courting fate if it pushes Rome too far
The chairman of Italy’s budget committee is frighteningly blunt. The country's bond market will spin out control as soon as the European Central Bank stops buying its sovereign debt. “The bond spreads will widen dramatically. The whole situation is unsustainable without an ECB guarantee, and the eurozone will collapse,” said Claudio Borghi.

This is a greater threat to European banks and global finance than the current opera buffa in Turkey. It is drawing closer. The ECB has pre-announced that it will halve purchases of eurozone bonds to €15bn (£13bn) a month in October, and will stop altogether at the end of the year. There will no longer be a lender-of-last resort behind eurozone states on January 1 2019. Any rescue will require the backing of the EU bail-out fund (ESM), under draconian terms, subject to a vote in the Bundestag.

There is no chance that the insurgent Lega-Five Star coalition in Rome would accept any such programme dictated by the German finance ministry. The eurosceptic alliance would activate its "minbot" parallel currency and subvert monetary union from within. “The minibot is part of our official programme. We have it if needed,” he told me this morning.

Any move by the ECB to extend bond purchases into next year would cause a political firestorm in Germany. It would be seen as a concession to a rebel politicians who have openly threatened to tear up the EU Stability Pact and Fiscal Compact. The ECB could perhaps get away with extending its long-term (TLTRO) funding for eurozone banks.

“It is not only Italy that will be in trouble. Who is going to buy a 10-year Portuguese bond with a lower yield than a US Treasury, when there is nothing standing behind Portugal?” said Mr Borghi, a Tuscan MP and budget chief in the lower house of parliament. “We’re back where we were when the crisis began in 2011. Instead of fixing the structural flaws in the eurozone system, they used the bond spreads as a weapon of mass financial destruction to topple governments and put their friends in power,” he said. “There are only two golden keys to get out of this slaughterhouse: either the ECB agrees to hold the risk spread at 150 points; or we take back our own currency and restore national independence,” he said. The spread ended today at 290.

Mr Borghi has long been the eurosceptic firebrand of the nationalist Lega. An ex-Deutsche Bank trader, he proposes the restoration of the Medici Florin as the new patriotic coin of Italy.

What is striking is that the Lega’s elder statesman – and de facto co-premier as minister of government – has issued equally stark warnings over the last two weeks. “I expect an attack; financial markets are populated by hungry speculative funds that pick their prey and pounce,” said Giancarlo Giorgetti. “We saw  what happened in August 1992 (ERM crisis), and seven years ago with Berlusconi. In the summer, there is thin trading in financial markets, and it lends itself to assaults on countries. Look at Turkey,” he told Il Libero. “The old establishment in Italy and Europe wants to overthrow this government to avoid a precedent. Populist governments are not tolerated. The EU is afraid that if Italy succeeds, other countries might copy us,” he said. Sound familiar?

Mr Giorgetti is alluding to the "coup d’etat" of late 2011 when the ECB withheld purchases of Italian bonds to enforce austerity policies on Silvio Berlusconi, and ultimately to drive him out of office when he began to flirt with the lira. That this was a political execution is more or less confirmed in Morire di Austerita, a kiss-and-tell memoire by an ECB board member. It is also confirmed by Athanasios Orphanides, then an ECB governor. “They cut off refinancing and threaten to kill the banking system. They create a roll-over crisis in the bond market. This what happened to Italy in 2011,” he said earlier this year.

A former EU commissioner was installed as prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti. He is a high-minded gentleman but that is not the point. The defenestration was done with a nod and wink from the Italian president of the day, a Stalinist who later converted to EU ideology with the same fanaticism. This preserved the constitutional formalities. Much the same happened in Greece to premier George Papandreou.

The Italian and Greek episodes show how the EU apparatus works through powerful elites in each member state to enforce its will when resisted, and how it uses fear. Economic coercion is an instrument for regime change. In the case of Brexit it is now being used for the reverse purpose, to prop up the compliant – almost capitulard – regime of Theresa May.

Lorenzo Codogno from LC Macro Advisors said Lega rhetoric has become alarming. He had a ring-side seat in the 2011 drama as chief economist at the Italian treasury, and saw how quickly the debt markets can turn against you.

The risk spread on Italian 10-year bonds has risen almost 50 basis points over the last four trading sessions, whether caused by fears over Unicredit’s exposure to Turkey or – more importantly – fears over the looming budget clash between the Lega-Grillini and Brussels this autumn.

Mr Codogno said the the Lega’s usually cautious Mr Giorgetti almost seemed to be opening the door to "Italexit". “Italians may get distracted at the beach, but financial markets will notice. Italy is very vulnerable right now if there is any slowdown in the global economy. If the government pushes the budget deficit above 3% of GDP there will be a crisis immediately,” he said.

Italy is not a basket case. It still has the EU’s second biggest manufacturing industry and a current account surplus of 2.8% of GDP. It is a net contributor to Brussels. Italians have greater private wealth than the Germans. Aggregate debt as a share of GDP is at low end of the G7. That is why the EU is courting fate if it pushes Rome too far.

The country faces insolvency risk only because the deformed EMU structure has no lender-of-last-resort and creates a deflationary trap for states that entered monetary union with high public debt. EMU has entrenched a vicious circle of low investment and dismal productivity.

We forget now that Italy used to have a trade surplus with Germany. Until the mid-Nineties, its growth tracked German levels, helped by benign devaluations from time to time. Italy’s two lost decades began when the currencies were fixed. Germany slowly locked in competitive advantage through the Hartz IV wage squeeze and through falling unit labour costs, until the mercantilist trap closed.

The consequence is that Italy’s debt dynamics are acutely sensitive to slight changes in nominal GDP growth. The obvious risk is that the trajectory will turn fatal in the next global downturn.

Public debt has only just stabilised at 132% of GDP a full decade into this ageing cycle. One more shock will push it through 140% in short order. The compound arithmetic will do the rest.

Foreign hedge funds already have their fingers on the trigger, watching for the first clues on the budget. Brussels wants further fiscal austerity of 1% of GDP over the next year. The Lega-Grillini promised voters fiscal expansion of 6% of GDP, if you add up the flat tax, universal basic income, reversal of pension reforms, and the cancellation of planned VAT rises.

Finance minister Giovanni Tria sounds conciliatory. The next budget will be “compatible” with EU rules. But he is an orphan figure foisted upon the coalition after the country’s president vetoed a eurosceptic. Electoral power lies with Davide Casaleggio, the cyber Godfather of the Five Star movement.

Above all, power lies with Matteo Salvini, the Lega strongman, becoming stronger by the day and leading the polls at 32%. He has seized on the Genoa bridge disaster to denounce austerity and EU budget limits. It is the tragic excuse he needs to defy the Stability Pact and to outflank the pro-EU poteri forti in Italy. “There can be no trade-off between fiscal rules and the safety of Italians,” he said.

The fate of the eurozone now depends on a trial of strength between the Brussels-Frankfurt-Berlin axis and a ferociously-defiant Matteo Salvini.

There is no use threatening to eject the country from monetary union, a la Grecque. That would precipitate a chain-reaction of sovereign and corporate defaults, and bring down the European banking system. Germany could expect to lose €2 trillion.

Besides, it is what Mr Salvini wants. He concluded long ago that national self-government is impossible as long as Italy remains in the ECB cage. Or as he once told me, “the euro is a crime against humanity”.

The eurozone has just two or three months to figure out how to handle the most dangerous revolt since the launch of monetary union, and what to do before the ECB stops buying Italian bonds. This has the makings of very hot autumn.

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