Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 2.11.16


Don Quijote: Someone believes they've found one of the sources of Cervantes' classic novel. Click here for details.


Education: This is the usual political football here, exacerbated by the fact that the Catholic Church still plays a large part in this field and, secondly, that religion divides the parties. Every incoming administration makes major changes and, if they stay in power, then make even more. Interestingly, one possible consequence of the recent end of bipolar politics here is that Sr Rajoy is said to be re-considering the PP's most recent proposals for change. Which you can be sure would not damage the Church's position or reduce its influence.


Immigration: I talked the other day about the EU's highly questionable policy of free movement of people between countries of vastly different economic status. Attached below - as Article 1 - is an article on this from Daniel Finkelstein of The Times. I think it's full of common sense but, then, I would: A taster: The insistence of the EU that free movement must mean common entitlement to benefits is barking mad. I sometimes think it a miracle that in the EU referendum Remain, burdened by this policy, even managed to come second.

Russian Money: If you need to know just how much dirty Russian money has corrupted London, take a look at this documentary of a couple of years ago from Channel 4. Beyond disgraceful.


Russia 1:  As is obvious, I'm no admirer of Putin's Russia and I particularly detest his propaganda mouthpiece, RT News: Attached, as Article 2 (or linked here) is an article entitled Playing Russia at its Own Game. I suspect it's thinking of this sort which lay behind MI5's first ever interview given recently to The Guardian. Which produced this response from a chap who regularly appears on RT News and who might, therefore, lack objectivity on this subject. His tone is classic RT News.

Russia 2: It's reported that: Thousands of confidential emails between President Putin’s advisers exposing the Kremlin’s efforts to break up neighbouring states have been leaked by Ukrainian hackers. The hack reveals Moscow’s control over pro-Russian breakaway regions in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Emails to Mr Surkov show that the Kremlin was asked to approve ministerial appointments, laws and even press statements for the supposedly independent statelets.

  • Someone is killing wild horses up in the hills. For no apparent reason.
  • A letter in La Voz de Galicia last week cited what we all know, that the police are fond of having their patrol cars where a speed limit of 80kph(50mph) makes no sense from the point of view of safety. But a lot as revenue generation. 
  • More than 22,000 Galician adolescents are reported to use the internet after midnight
  • There are 22,000 people in Galicia who have more than 10 properties. Which is 170% up on 10 years ago. As I said yesterday, some people are doing much better than others these days. Or perhaps its just the result of multiple inheritances in favour of today's single kids who've got yesterday's lots of aunts and uncles. On top of grandparents and parents.
  • This is an article about a British cemetery up on our NW coast. Long-standing readers might recall that I once 'starred' as the captain in a documentary about the wrecking of the training ship, The Serpent, along our Coast of Death in 1890. Which went absolutely nowhere.

The Spanish Language:

1. I came across the Spanish word toples the other day. After wondering what un tople could be, it dawned on me it was the adjective topless.

2. Years ago I somehow acquired Living Spanish, a book first published in 1949 and then again in 1979. Here are a few gems from the first half of it:-
  • Señorito(Master) is often used by servants when addressing the master of the house
  • Many peasants in Spain are too poor to possess cows
  • In country towns, goats are often led through the streets and milked on the spot
  • Unless on very intimate terms[?], a foreigner should never address a Spaniard in the familiar form of You(Tu).
  • Fans are used in Spain by men and women alike
  • Spanish does not object to redundancy [i. e. using unnecessary words]
  • The classic Spanish dish is el puchero or el cocido - a stew containing meat, sausage and vegetables. In peasant families, this can be left to cook slowly over a charcoal fire with little attention.
  • Spanish does not object to the double negative
More anon!

The Spanish Ship: After spending some time tarting up Google's translation of the article I posted yesterday, I came across the original English version. It's attached as Article 3, just in case anyone was confused.


A nice cartoon, from the Daily Telegraph, on the US presidential election:-


1. It’s not right wing to want curbs on immigration: Daniel Finkelstein, The Times

. . . Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest- tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Last week I passed with my family under the light of the Statue of Liberty — the “New Colossus” of Emma Lazarus’s poem — and travelled on to Ellis Island where, over a period of 60 years, more than 12 million immigrants disembarked on their way to a new life in the United States of America.
We walked through the baggage hall and then, as millions had before us, up the stairs to the vast registry room. Here, applicants had waited for hours for their turn to come for inspection and admission. We passed the hard benches and the high desks and followed the signs to the record room. And here we searched for Mirjam Wiener, for my mother.

Part of a rare prisoner swap from Belsen concentration camp, my mother had arrived on the island with her two sisters on February 21, 1945, after two weeks at sea on a Red Cross ship from Marseilles. Her own mother had starved to death but her father had not been imprisoned. Conducting his war work in New York, he was ready to greet his girls at what is known as the kissing post, the place on the island where families are reunited.

We quite quickly found the “manifest of alien passengers” of the SS Gripsholm with my mother’s name on it. Wiener, Mirjam Emma, aged 11, passenger 24.

Because the girls had use false passports to effect their release from Belsen, the typed manifest listed them as Spanish Americans from Paraguay. In pen, a New York official has crossed these out and in capital letters written STATELESS. And then there were the questions. Is she deformed or crippled? No. A polygamist? No. An anarchist? No. Has she been in prison? No. For such purposes concentration camp clearly didn’t count.

When asked how long she intended to stay in the US, the manifest said “ever” and recorded that she intended to become an American citizen. In the event, after about a year or so, she returned to live in Golders Green with her father, became British, met a Polish refugee in a youth club near Marble Arch and married him.

Given this history, it is hardly surprising that I have strong feelings about immigration. It’s not a subject I can just ignore. The lamp of liberty shines brightly for me always. Offering asylum to the oppressed and persecuted is a moral duty for a community and one whose importance I appreciate only too well.

I go, however, beyond this. Asylum may be a moral duty, but there is also a strong economic benefit and cultural advantage to immigration. The millions who came through the golden door helped build America and, though this country is very different, migrants have helped build Britain too.

Almost every piece of economic research testifies to the contribution made by migrants, indeed to their practical necessity in many industries and services. And as new arrivals integrate into the British way of life they offer — and this is naturally a judgment made differently by each of us, but I believe strongly that they (we, I guess) offer — something fresh in each generation that enriches the country culturally.

Which is why it is tragic that the argument for immigration is now being lost. Those of us who see the value and merit of it have failed to find both the argument and the policy to persuade our fellow countrymen.

One reason for this, of course, is that we don’t really try. Changing the subject is a political approach that often works, and I frequently recommend it, but on immigration it has been tried long enough. It is failing. Indeed it has become positively dangerous. It is profoundly undemocratic and arrogant to ignore a national feeling that is widespread and deep-seated. And even if it were not, it isn’t, as the EU referendum amply demonstrated, sustainable politically.

Yet while arguing the case for asylum and immigration is now necessary, it is hardly sufficient. Those of us who want to make that case have to understand the concerns that others have about it and respond to those concerns. It isn’t enough just to frown every time someone raises them.

It is legitimate and understandable that people demand that government exercise control over the country’s borders. Part of this is insisting on orderly conduct. Ellis Island closed in the 1950s when migrants started arriving by plane as well as boat, but it surely would have closed earlier if it had been the scene of riots or makeshift camps. Supporters of asylum should not become the defenders of tent cities as people make their way from one free democratic safe liberal country in which they already have the right to asylum, to another.

Migrants are often among the world’s most enterprising citizens. Most come here to work but it is legitimate to insist that they do. Those of us who support immigration should be among the most robust about this, given the impact on national feeling made by those who arrive to claim benefits.

The insistence of the EU that free movement must mean common entitlement to benefits is barking mad. I sometimes think it a miracle that in the EU referendum Remain, burdened by this policy, even managed to come second.

And finally, but most controversially, those who support immigration must accept the need to control numbers. Keeping it below 100,000 is likely to prove unrealistic, but it is similarly unrealistic just to imply (without doing anything as democratic as actually saying so) that no sort of numerical target is ethical.

One of the reasons that my parents loved this country (love in my mother’s case, as she is still alive) is because they valued Britishness. And if they valued it, isn’t it fair enough that the families that welcome them here value Britishness too? Isn’t it reasonable that they worry about change and fear losing something intangible that they can’t get back?

If that is right, then surely controlling the flow of migrants must form part of policy? New arrivals need to integrate and they need time to do that and both pressure and assistance to do so.

Immigration control isn’t a right-wing policy. It’s the centre, and if those of us who see the importance of migration fail to appreciate where the centre is, then our political fate will be the one that always greets those that make that error. We will lose.

2. How the West should punish Putin:  Edward Lucas, CapX

As NATO scrambles to beef up its defences in the frontline states and Western diplomacy is humiliated in Syria, the New Cold War is no longer a fanciful book title. It is fact.

As the author of that book — much-criticised when first published in 2008 — I am glad, if alarmed, that my warnings about Russia’s revanchist and repressive policies have been vindicated. Yet one of its central messages has been missed. Russia is not the Soviet Union, and this is not a tussle of strength between global superpowers. We — the European Union, NATO, the West in general—are losing not because we are weak, but because we are weak-willed.

Russia’s weapons include lies, money, espionage and bluff. It deploys them with the decisiveness, even recklessness, that comes from autocratic rule.

The Kremlin practises joined-up government. Its businesses (especially energy exporters), state agencies (spies and soldiers) and independent public bodies (broadcasters, universities, courts) work together. Ours don’t. Vladimir Putin is willing to accept economic pain; we aren’t. He uses force; we flinch. He threatens the use of nuclear weapons; we find that terrifying.

All too often, we fail to notice even that we are being attacked. We salivate at Russian money, while ignoring its political payload. Even legitimate trade and investment build up constituencies in the West which lobby for the political decisions that will preserve their juicy contracts and deals. That is one reason that our sanctions on Russia since it invaded Ukraine have been so weak.

Worse, Russian money feeds into our public life. Cash-strapped papers regularly carry Russian propaganda in advertorial. The Kremlin overtly bankrolls the National Front in France. Covertly, Kremlin cash supports other extremist, anti-American and disruptive forces elsewhere. We are timid when it comes to tackling these links.

Similarly, we brush off Russian propaganda, believing that our media is invincible and that truth triumphs in the long run. Perhaps, but too much can go wrong in the meantime. Russian media and disinformation outlets stoke conspiracy theories, spread scare stories and corrode our political system with stolen information. Even now, many Americans do not realise that Russia has been trying to get Donald Trump elected, using a pernicious combination of hacking and leaking.

Our media prize fairness over truth. If Western sources say that a Russian missile shot down an airliner over Ukraine, and pro-Kremlin voices dispute this, it is easier to give both sides of the story rather than rule out one side as too tendentious. This addiction to balance is selective. Our editorial decision-makers do not, generally, balance round-earthers with flat-earthers, or astronomers with astrologers. But they are quite happy to host Kremlin viewpoints as though these were entirely legitimate and reasonable.

We can do plenty about this if we wish. It starts with our financial system. The central message of the New Cold War was this: if you believe that only money matters, then you are defenceless when people attack you using money.

The weakest part of the Putin machine: its Western accomplices. Russia can’t launder money on its own. It uses Western—often British—bankers, lawyers and accountants. These are the “guilty men” of our era. They have enabled the theft of tens of billions of pounds every year from the Russian people. They knew what they were doing, and they thought nothing would ever happen to them.

We can change that. We can start with ostracism. Working for dirty Russian clients should be social and professional suicide, akin to dumping toxic waste, trading in endangered species or loan-sharking. We should apply regulatory sanctions, such as professional disqualification: it is a serious breach of the rules, for example, for a lawyer to take on a client whose beneficial ownership is unclear. Only the cost of defending a libel action prevents me giving examples.

Finally there is criminal prosecution. Britain has a lamentable record in prosecuting high-level, white-collar crime, but we could always change that. Moreover, in some cases the money-laundering has an American dimension. The thought of spending several years in a US prison should not only be a powerful deterrent to those still working for Putin and his cronies. It will also be a powerful incentive to turn Queen’s Evidence. With better insight into the Kremlin’s offshore financial empire, we can start rehearsing the ultimate deterrent: freezing and seizing assets.

We don’t need new laws. We just need to enforce our existing ones. British banks have a shameful record on money-laundering, as a report in 2011 by the former Financial Services Authority (now the Financial Conduct Authority) made clear. It highlighted how banks simply ignored the “know-your-customer” requirement for what are called “politically exposed persons” if the profits were big enough. Why worry about the source of the funds when the destination is so lucrative? Lobbying from the City made sure that the recommendations got nowhere.

What we do need is much greater coordination among our different agencies.We need a cabinet committee, chaired by a senior minister, to coordinate our criminal-justice, intelligence, defence, security, financial-supervision and other capabilities.

We can also raise the bar for Russian propaganda. We should lambast the BBC and other broadcasters for their phoney, lazy balancing of truth and falsehood. We should refuse to have dealings with the Kremlin’s lie-machines — the “TV station” RT, and the “news agency” Sputnik. No reputable commentator, politician or official should lend them credibility by responding to their requests for comment. Let these propagandists stew in their own swamp of cranks and conspiracy theorists. We should encourage Ofcom to continue enforcing its rules on balance in broadcasting — which RT has already tripped over several times.

These counter-measures are far more effective than a military response. It is quite right to bolster NATO’s presence in the frontline states. But we should not fall for Russia’s attempt to frame the argument in its terms: if you defend your allies, you risk a nuclear apocalypse. We are bigger, richer and stronger than Russia. We should act that way.

Edward Lucas writes for the Economist; he is also a senior vice-president at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a think-tank in Warsaw and Washington, DC.

3. Where To Now, Spain?

Mariano Rajoy has finally been reappointed as Spain's new Prime Minister. But where is the country headed?

That's it, Spain has a new government after more than ten months of bickering, soporific waiting around and widespread political contempt for institutions and voters. Or rather, Spain will have a new government when Mr. Rajoy wakes up from his siesta on Thursday evening: 315 days are not apparently enough to think about who he wants in his new cabinet. He is taking five more days to mull things over. But a year of uncertainty is coming to a close and the country is setting course once again for pastures afresh, but where, exactly, is it going?

A couple of weeks ago, former Socialist Party leader Josep Borrell used the metaphor of the PSOE as an airliner during a TV interview, the plane tumbling through the sky as the crew fought amongst themselves over who was in control. It was about to crash but for now seems still to be in the air, both wings badly damaged and both engines spluttering after ingesting several birds each. Passengers continue to pray for an early arrival at any runway in an acceptable condition before the aeroplane slams into the ground.

Let us extend Mr Borrell's metaphor. Instead of the Socialist Party and a battered airplane, let us consider the Great Ship Spain. Or the once-great ship Spain. The European Central Bank acted as a deus ex machina in 2012—something James Cameron would never have allowed in Titanic—and Captain Rajoy managed to dodge the iceberg, more or less. The orchestra continued to play but with a new tune, drier, harsher, with cuts and restrictions for the passengers, and the navigation and communication system were severely damaged. From the bridge every Friday, Captain Rajoy's second-in-command sent out tsunamis of data about what was happening on the boat but few passengers paid much attention to her. Drowning them with words, she was in theory reporting great improvements undertaken around the ship, but no one was able to work out where it was going, and the captain and his second-in-command did not clarify the matter.

The only thing that did seem clear is that this was not the trip the passengers and their offspring had signed up for at the dock.

A non-trivial number of those travellers announced angrily that they wanted to leave the ship altogether to try to sail on all by themselves. They were, they said, thoroughly fed up with the state of affairs. They have not, yet, jumped ship, though. Then came the election of a new crew and officers, and the passengers were unable to agree on anything, leading to the elected crew and officers making all kinds of statements about "what the passengers really wanted". The captain refused to behave as a captain and the ballot had to be repeated. In vain, because everyone was still confused. Meanwhile, the boat kept going round and round in circles.

Given the uncertainty, but knowing that at some point the ship would have to face the next storm, or perhaps even an iceberg inside a hurricane on very rough seas, and with the boat far from being repaired, several sections of the crew announced the best thing to do would be to return to the port of origin, after setting sail in 1978. Another section of the new crew swore blind that they wanted to take passengers to the Scandinavian fjords, but were found in possession of a chart marked with a cross over Caracas.

With the navigation and communication systems so badly damaged, and the Captain so inept, the telegram announcing the disappearance of the historic port of departure has not reached the officers on the bridge, but text messages and rumours have reached the passengers down below. The once powerful, proud original shipyards, full of skilled workers, are now deserted and rusting, with workers and their children surviving as best they can with a few hours a week serving drinks to tourists on the beach next to the port.

Fearing a last-minute mutiny in favour of sailing towards the southern oceans, one part of the crew lept on another in the bowels of the ship one dark night, stabbing them in the back, with the captain's approval. There is now "agreement" that, for the moment, the ship will not sail towards the Gulf of Venezuela. But neither will it move towards the Norwegian estuaries or New York, which was approximately the original destination, the trip the passengers had thought they were buying a ticket for.

Passengers still have the usual old dreams: more wealth, more justice, some entertaining moments along the way and a better future for their children. At this rate, though, their grandchildren will go grey before they reach any new port. What note, what message, should they leave them pinned to the cabin wall? "We are very sorry, but we were not able to fix the boat in time and take you to New York. Hugs, grandad".

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