Friday, September 30, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 30.9.16

Note: This being Friday, several items below come courtesy of Thursday's Business Over Tapas bulletin.


Security of Employment: From BoT: Following a determination in EU law, temporary contract workers are liable for compensation. El Confidencial warns that some two million erstwhile short-term workers who had lost their jobs in the last twelve months are now claiming indemnities from companies.

  • Per BoT again: EU auditors warn of "waste" in Spanish maritime ports. The European Court of Auditors estimates that €394.2 million of European funds have ended up ‘underexploited’ in infrastructure. The original story in El País here.
  • And again from BoT: Spain is the European country with the most corrupt politicians of all, says a report here. Interesting to see the UK gets a worse rating than France, Germany and Holland.


GDP Growth: Despite the absence of a government for the last 8 months, this ploughs/plows on. The number for this year is forecast to be 3.2%, better than virtually any other EU country. And up from 2.7% as recently as June. The impact of massively increased tourism? It's an ill wind . . . 


The PSOE Party: Just like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, the leader of this left-of-centre party is facing attempts by his own team to oust him. I've mentioned he might be succeeded by the Presidenta of Andalucia and wondered how she'd deal with long-standing allegations of vast corruption down there. Here's something on this.

Acting President of the PP Party: As I suggested, he's being seen now not as a stubborn Gallego but as a strategic genius who could see the PSOE ripping itself apart, after being squeezed by Podemos from the Left and the PP from the Right. Here's one Spanish political commentator on him: Rajoy’s way of playing a winning hand is to hold on and not have to play his hand. He was already the leader of a unified and hierarchical party with more parliamentary seats, but now he is also facing a party in a vitriolic rift, whose institutional renewal will be complicated and will require time, especially as we know the fragmentation of the left is here to stay. As in the UK, so here in Spain.


The Banking System: Here's another worrying article from Don Quijones, explaining how the EU – with the help of lawyers - might manufacture legality out of illegality to save not just Deutsche Bank but also the entire banking systems of Germany, France, Italy and Spain: When failure becomes the ultimate virtue, you know the game is almost over. Once Germany’s über-austere government bites the bullet and rescues its own flagship bank with public money (as it quietly did with many of its smaller banks in the wake of the first leg of the global financial crisis), all attempts to reform Europe’s deeply dysfunctional financial sector will have come to naught.

En passant, I noticed at the Post Office yesterday that the Deutsche Bank desk had gone. A search quickly confirmed that their collaboration with the Spanish government ended last March.

Nice Quote: Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt: We went on a fact-finding mission to Brussels recently. It was a failure. There are no facts.


Russia: Here's a catalogue of Moscow's disinformation on the Malaysian airline shot down over Ukraine. And there's a Times article on the need to stand up to this at the end of this post.


Localism: 60% of Galician holiday-makers stayed here in Galicia this year. Only 7% went abroad. The rest presumably went somewhere else in Spain. Though you never know, as the word extranjero(foreigner) is sometimes used here for Spaniards from outside Galicia.


Touché: In a supermarket checkout yesterday, those in my queue were advised to move to another line. The 2 women behind me got there first but, as the second one had a ton of items, I went ahead of her as she was placing them on the belt. This conversation then took place after I'd paid:-
Hombre, you should have asked my permission to go in front of me.
Mujer, firstly, you were behind me in the first queue; secondly, I only have 2 items; and 3. In other cultures it's considered polite to let the people in front of you go first at the new line. So, please don't lecture me on manners.

TBH, I'd anticipated a comment and had my response ready. Everyone else in the queue seemed amused at the exchange.


The Nazi Government: This flew high for a while in the 1930s and 40s. This fascinatingarticle shows just how high.


More examples of Finnish/British nightmares:-


The West must stand up to Putin’s lie machine

In June 2014 I flew back from Sydney to London by Malaysian Airlines. Every now and then I’d consult the moving map to see where we’d got to. When the little pixellated plane showed us to be over the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, I wondered at our flying high and untroubled while under us a civil war was going on. Less than two weeks later another Malaysian Airlines plane, flying over that almost exact spot, was blown out of the sky and nearly 300 people — children, doctors, Dutch families, random travellers — were killed.

It’s more than two years on now, and the machinery of justice has ground exceedingly slow. The interim report of the Joint Investigation Team of international prosecutors was published yesterday afternoon and concluded that the passengers and crew on MH17 died when their plane was hit by a ground-to-air missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian separatist rebels.

Actually we knew all this within a week of the disaster. Various sources, including most notably a website called Bellingcat, operated by a British blogger called Eliot Higgins, had begun the task of using maps, contemporary social media utterances by witnesses and photographs (they call this “geolocation”) to establish that a Russian BUK ground-to-air mobile launcher had driven to the area where a missile launch had been detected. Bellingcat was even able to suggest what unit the BUK had belonged to (the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade) and where in Russia it had originated. It was a remarkable job and would have been impossible in the pre-internet age.

From the very beginning the Russian authorities were determined to fight the conclusion that they were responsible, directly or indirectly, for the 298 deaths. So they contested the work that Bellingcat and others were doing, and it is that contest that holds such significance for the West today. That’s because it plays upon a weakness that exists in modern democratic societies, a problem — a crisis almost — of trust.

In the first instance the Russian authorities directly contradicted what we might call the Bellingcat version of events. A week after the shooting down they held a press conference presenting crudely manipulated satellite imagery to suggest that a Ukrainian plane was in the vicinity at the time. They altered the supposed flight path of MH17, said they had radar data that they never produced, and gave wrong information about the photographs that already existed of the BUK in Ukrainian territory.

This was only one aspect of their disinformation campaign. At the same time Russian media (almost all media outlets there are run by allies or employees of Putin) began to broadcast their own theories, or those of Russian separatists. One such was that the plane had been loaded with dead bodies in Amsterdam so that it could be shot down and create a pretext for war.

They also ran character assassination campaigns originating in the Russian media about Higgins and some of the people whose work he used. One was a former “Stasi agent”, Higgins himself was unemployed and therefore probably deficient. And so on.

If we cannot trust anybody any more, if everything is moot, then we can have no confidence in ourselves. Everything: our democracy, free press, beliefs in human rights, become relative
There were some figures in the West who needed little prompting from the Russians to conclude that all was not as it seemed. The veteran Australian journalist John Pilger (whose books I once revered) wrote that autumn that if there was disinformation, it was western. “Without a single piece of evidence,” he thundered, putting a Nelsonian eye to his telescope, “the US and its Nato allies and their media machines” blamed Russia, whereas, said Pilger, “a wealth of material from credible sources shows that . . . the airliner may well have been brought down by the Ukrainian regime.”
The “wealth of material” mostly came from Moscow originally. But just to show how something like this can stay in the mental water supply, the Daily Express ran a headline this April: “SHOCK CLAIM: Ukrainian fighter jet ‘SHOT DOWN Malaysia Airlines MH17’ say witnesses”. In fact this was a report of a BBC documentary examining conspiracy theories about MH17, which concluded that a Ukrainian jet had done no such thing. By the time the documentary went out the Express was being prayed in aid in scores of “alternative” western news sites.

We’ve known for some time that some westerners prefer Putin to our own flawed leaders. It is an area where, interestingly, the left of the Stop the War movement and the right of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen overlap. And one of the things they agree with Putin about is the contention that the “mainstream media” is corrupted in its opposition to all of them, is not to be trusted and must be fought.

In June this year the press agency Russia Today even hosted a three-day conference entitled The New Era of Journalism: Farewell to Mainstream, to which it invited 300 journalists from around the world — though not Bellingcat. Among those addressing the conference were that great friend of journalism Vladimir Putin and (by link from the Ecuadorian embassy in London) Julian Assange, who chose to attack Hillary Clinton. A British invitee was a writer called Neil Clark, who used to guest for The Guardian and who appeared on Russia Today in the wake of MH17 to decry the theory that Russia had anything to do with it. Other attendees were obviously quite unaware of what they had walked into.

Russia Today (or RT) was also recommended for its “more objective” coverage back in 2011, by one Jeremy Corbyn. Weeks after MH17 Seumas Milne, later to become his communications tsar, went on RT (“away from the mainstream media echo chamber”, said his host) to blame the West for what had happened in Ukraine. The plane disaster wasn’t mentioned. Why bring it up?
More than one observer has noticed that the use of selective web hacks, including Assange being given the Democratic National Committee emails by the Russians, add up to a system of blurring any idea of the truth. According to one view these tactics are designed not to convince of an alternative, but to disrupt. If we cannot trust anybody any more, if everything is moot, then we can have no confidence in ourselves. Everything: our democracy, free press, beliefs in human rights, become relative.

Maybe this is a strategy, and maybe it isn’t. And maybe, given our capacity for self-laceration, it doesn’t have to be. For months after the MH17 shooting down I would be told by people on social media or even on our own website that the evidence against Russia wasn’t there. Just as they said about Assad’s chemical attack a year earlier. I take some comfort from people like Bellingcat. But, in the Age of Stupidity — who needs Putin to make us dumb?


Anthea said...

Maybe the woman in the supermarket had lived in the UK where her attitude to changing queues is much more common. In my experience, the Spanish actually respect queue order in the supermarket - although not at bus stops. If you want to go in front with your one or two items, the standard line is that you have bus to catch and so, si no le importa, please can you go first. Usually works fine!

Colin Davies said...

I agree this works, but would comment that people frequently offer to let me go through with only 2 or 3 items.

Plus this was an 'abnormal' case of us moving from a pre-existing line. By my lights, the two who went in front of me were the ones who didn't seek permission. Possibly because - with only 2 items - I would have refused!

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