Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 23.10.16


Commerce: Right after I cast aspersions on this here in Spain, it's reported that the Spanish business schools - which have an excellent reputation - turn out more entrepreneurs than any others. I can't help wondering whether this isn't an endorsement of the comment made to me years ago that 10-20% of the Spanish people work at least as hard and as well as any others in the world and carry the not-so-hard-working remainder of the population.


Trade Agreements: What on earth are we to make of reports that the tiny Belgian region of Wallonia has kiboshed 7 years of tough negotiations with Canada, causing the latter to walk away from the table in disappointment and disgust? is this any way to run a whelk stall? Or arrange a piss-up in a brewery? Basically, all you need to know about the EU is that it's a massive committee. Run by unelected bureaucrats and technocrats on very fat salaries and pensions. Or am I being too cynical? Groucho would surely have regarded it as a club he wouldn't want to be a member of.


A Mis-fit?: Those with any knowledge of European history will be aware the UK has regularly 'missed out' on major European developments - The Thirty Years War, post 1786 revolutions; the 1848 revolutions; and, most recently, the euro, to name the major ones. One's tempted to say it's the UK, not Spain, that's 'different'. Not a natural bedfellow for those involved in grand events and schemes. So, never really at home in the EU. And, just for the record, F. A. to do with a desire to retrieve the glory of an empire. Which is the frequent but silly observation from Europe. My daughters - who are in their 30s - don't even know there ever was an empire.


Russian Disinformation: This is often amusing but sometimes not. There's an article on it at the end of this post. A taster: Kremlin media have reported that America designed the ebola virus, and that a secret US base was producing the zika virus in Ukraine.


Los Porcos Bravos: I had fun watching am 8-a-side football match yesterday between these guys and their annual opponents from Sheffield, who'd been deliberately kept up all night on the town. At this lovely spot near Bueu:

I don't know what the opposite of a judgement of Solomon is but someone certainly made one yesterday. They played without a referee. The result was as inevitable as it was amusing, with the game descending into tetchy arguments and even almost-fisticuffs at times. At its hilarious peak, the match was brought to a halt for 10 minutes while the English insisted on an obvious penalty, while the locals refused to grant it. I rather felt that the latter had given themselves an unusual form of home advantage, in front of, of course, a very partisan crowd. After a couple of disallowed(?) goals, I wasn't at all sure what the final score was but was reliably informed it was 4:2 to the Porcos Bravos. I'm pleased to say the English guys took it all with dignity. For the most part.


The post-match bonhomie(?) . . .


Three more cases this morning, all of them long-standing and all of them located here in Galicia. I've provided links to these but, if you want the links to other cases, you need to go to earlier posts. You'll have to forgive me if I get some cases mixed up; there's so many of them, it's beyond human capacity to recollect them correctly:-

The case
The Accused

Operación Patos

Illegal property reclassifi-cations, etc.
Under pre-trial investigation, I think.
The Pokemon Case

Senior politicians and execs.
You name it
Under pre-trial investigation, I think.
Nova Caixa Galicia

Various bank officers
Illegally enriching themselves

Sagunto el Mayor
The mayor and 11 councillors

Local government execs.

Bribery and corruption in respect of tenders and contracts
Under investigation
A Pobra de Caramiñal

The mayor
Driving for 12m+ without insurance

The Catalan Politician
Carme Forcatel
Ex President of the Catalan parliament

“Disobed-ience and and perversion of justice.

Not money related.

2 retired politicians
Ex Presidents of Andalucia
Scamming hundreds of millions of euros from the EU

Trial proceeding
The Corrupt Senator

Rita Bárbera
Ex mayor of Valencia
Money laundering

Under investigation
The Stamps Scam

Promotor of the investment

Massive fraud on the public
Investigation began in 2006 and things have finally reached the courts. The Public Prosecutor is seeking a 27 year gaol sentence.


The Board
Passing off a Chinese phone as its own.

See here.
Cheating banker


Stole €1.9m from 14 clients
After 5 years(sic) of investigation the trial has now begun

The Royal Family

Sister of the king
Corrupt business practices 
Trial proceeding. With the usual attempts at delays


Senior position holders
Illegal party financing
Trial just begun after many years of investigation.

Bankía/Black Cards

Senior position holders
Use of 'black credit cards' to avoid taxation on income of more that €12m.
Trial just started
Bog standard case

The mayor of Vilareño de Conso, Galicia.
Falsification of docs and corrupt practices.

Trial just started
Bog standard case

The ex-mayor of Ribadumia, Galicia
Money laundering and drug smuggling

Under investigation
Bog standard case

Ex-president of the Balearics parliament
€4m bribes for changing property 
Awaiting sentence. 4 years demanded.


In this post-fact world, Putin’s web of lies is entangling the West.

The deluge of information on the internet makes it ever harder for us to discern the truth — something the master of the Kremlin is exploiting in an attempt to wreck democracy

Lying is not what it used to be. Consider Operation Infektion, a 1980s KGB “dezinformatsiya” operation that set out to convince the world that the CIA had invented Aids.

Back then the Soviets spent a lot of effort making their lies seem real. Operation Infektion involved medical “evidence” provided by East German biophysicists posing as French scientists and a front newspaper in India to place the story in. In 1987 the story appeared in 80 countries in 30 languages. When the US government accused the Soviets of spreading lies, this was met with outraged denial from the Gorbachev regime: how dare one accuse the Soviets of falsehoods?

Today the Putin regime also indulges in a sustained programme of dezinformatsiya through its official broadcasters and a plethora of websites and social media accounts across the world. The Kremlin has tried to stoke anti-immigrant (and thus anti-Merkel) feelings in Germany with fake tales about ethnic Russian girls raped by refugees in Berlin, and has attempted, somewhat cackhandedly, to cast doubt on the Scottish referendum by suggesting it might have been rigged and the way the votes were counted had not met international requirements.

Sometimes today’s dezinformatsiya evokes the Cold War. Kremlin media have reported that America designed the ebola virus, and that a secret US base was producing the zika virus in Ukraine.
This time around, however, the Kremlin does not bother with elaborate forgeries or convincing photos: it simply pumps the stories out online. If mainstream media prove they are false, it pumps out some more. Likewise when Vladimir Putin first denies that Russian soldiers are present in Ukraine — and then just as easily admits that they are there after all — he is not so much lying, in the sense of trying to convince someone of a false reality, as saying facts do not matter.

The Kremlin’s “post-fact” approach goes with the grain of today’s media environment. During the Cold War there was a limited number of broadcasters and newspapers, a large but just about graspable “information space” where you could contest your version of reality.

The information revolution changed all that. Search engines and social media allow people to self-select the news that suits them and to dwell in ever more enclosed echo chambers. If you are someone who a priori believes America is responsible for all the ills of the world, then the Kremlin will help confirm that bias, the evidence be damned.

Even for more open-minded audiences the amount of (dis)information available today can be dizzying: if you pump out enough lies, then people end up lost in the fog, unable to make any decision.

No one seems to be quite as affected as Donald Trump, who in his musings about whether Russia was responsible for the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine reflected: “Putin and Russia say they didn’t do it, the other side said they did. It may have been their weapon, but they didn’t use it . . . they even said the other side fired it to blame them. I mean, to be honest with you, you’ll probably never know for sure.”

Trump, like his hero Putin, takes lying to another level. US politicians lie as much as any — whether about extramarital affairs or weapons of mass destruction. But there is a difference with Trump. When he has been caught making absurd claims about how, for example, he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11, he simply disregards the criticism.

Now, with his campaign in meltdown, Trump is striking back by claiming there is a vast conspiracy against him: the “corporate press”, he told an audience in Florida on Thursday, is a weapon used by Hillary Clinton, who is doing the bidding of a shady international elite.

Conspiracy is also a favoured technique of the Kremlin propaganda. It likes to claim that any media criticism of Moscow’s policies is just part of the West’s information war against Russia, co-ordinated by a shady international elite. The aim here is to undermine the idea of truth. In a world where everyone is lying, why should the Kremlin or Trump not be allowed to lie too?

And in a world where you cannot believe anyone, then you are more likely to choose the story that is the most emotionally satisfying.

Nor is Britain immune. The Brexit referendum was full of untruths: from the “leave” claim that £350m a week would be diverted from the EU to the NHS; to the “remain” claim that 3m jobs depended on the EU. More importantly, as a new Legatum Institute study, Facts We Can Believe In: How to Make Fact-Checking Better, points out, neither side was involved in a rational debate even when they were ostensibly arguing with each other.

Competing claims could be technically correct depending on the way each side chose to use them. So, for instance, “leave” could say the UK did not control its borders if “control” referred to EU migration; “remain” supporters were also technically correct when they reinterpreted “control” to mean the Home Office could still deny entry on the basis of public security.

Similarly “leave” could claim that 60% of UK laws were made in Brussels — while “remain” argued it was 13%. The number, according to Michael Dougan, professor of European law at Liverpool University, depends on whether you count administrative decisions, such as a customs code for illuminated plastic skulls, as a law.

“Two arguments existed side by side,” the report says, “without forcing people to think critically about the issue, and this allowed individuals to decide that whichever side chimed with their pre-existing prejudices was telling the truth.”

Democracies are embracing the post-fact trend: it is a game that neo-authoritarians such as Putin will end up winning. The Kremlin can lie with impunity at home. It wants to undermine the rules-based, and ultimately evidence-based, world order abroad. Democracies, however, rely on being able to agree on the facts: if you cannot agree on what is true and what is false, deliberative democracy breaks down.

A historical paradox seems to be at work. Victory for the West in the Cold War was also the victory of freedom of speech over Soviet censorship. Today, the ubiquity of information technology has opened the floodgates to a deluge of disinformation — which plays into the Kremlin’s hands.

Peter Pomerantsev is the author of 'Nothing Is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia' (Faber & Faber) and a fellow of the Legatum Institute

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