Quotes: Down in the Corruption section of this post, I cite an article on a case of murder in León in 2014. Here, from it, are a few comments on Spanish society:-
- Rosa Seijas sees a cowed society that has accepted cronyism as inevitable. “Everyone complains, but nobody does anything,” she said. “They just say that this is the way things work. In fact, all they want is to find a way to get their own offspring a civil service job.”
- Carrasco’s architect friend, Jesús Ramos, says that the poisoned atmosphere in León reflected what he calls Spain’s “familist” society – where a weak welfare state provides no real safety net. “Here, your family looks after you,” he said. That makes cronyism inevitable, even virtuous.
- Lying to protect your own family – even in a court of law – is not a crime in Spain
- She wanted a job for life at the diputación[provincial government], of the kind enjoyed by established civil servants. A recent poll by the AXA Foundation showed that this is the career ambition for a quarter of Spanish students
- Carrasco was also a formal suspect in the irregular hiring of 40 clerks who were given jobs for life at the diputación in 2007, shortly after she arrived. Many of those handed the jobs – after getting such impossibly high marks in the exams that the local ombudsman concluded they must have seen the questions first – had links to politicians. The only surprising thing about the story was just how blatant the cheating seemed to be. [Ourense in Galicia is infamous for this]
- An assassin who drives a Mercedes and wears Hugo Boss does not represent the jobless rage of Spain’s new poor. If anything, she represents a society where the corrupt distribution of public wealth is so widespread that some feel they have a right to demand their share – and, in this case, if they do not get it, a right to kill for it.
See the above section . . . .
THE SPANISH ECONOMY
GDP: Notwithstanding recent decent growth, this has yet to return to pre-2007 levels
Russia: There's been a spate of articles on how to deal with Putin's non-military attacks on the West. Three of these are attached at the end of this post. But it's all rather misguided, as RT News assures us that Russia has no plans whatsoever to cause problems for anyone, least of all its ex-colonies in East Europe. It's merely preparing to defend itself from an imminent invasion by the USA and NATO.
Mergers: Three of Galicia's milk cooperatives have decided to come together to form a single large operation. One wonders if this is a precedent for the region's 3 small, uncompetitive, international airports. Probably not, given urban rivalries, localism and the absence of a true commercial approach to the issue.
Learning to Drive in Ponters: You might want to avoid the A-52 driving school. Yesterday, I followed 2 of their cars up the hill towards my house. At a roundabout, both of them did a U-turn without making any signals at all. Though one of them did signal right once the car was back on the road it had come from. God only knows why.
Scientology: I am slightly fascinated by this bizarre 'religion' and the antics of its current and ex adherents. If you share this at all, here's a long article on it. And here's a riveting video. Finally, here's South Park briefly taking the piss out of the mad sect. Which is not a religion at all, of course. Just a money-making scam with tax-free charitable status. Founded by a guy who realised that inventing a religion was the quickest way to get very rich. And who's since been much emulated. Truly, there's no limit to human gullibility. And greed.
For my writer friends and relatives . . .
THE CORRUPTION CAVALCADE
1. A Political Murder: Giles Tremlett has penned this article in The Guardian on the 2014 murder of an unpopular PP politician in León, Isabel Carrasco. It contains this telling paragraph:- "She’s the one who had 12 jobs, and 12 salaries!” It was a reference to the number of official and semi-official posts Carrasco had accumulated during her five years as diputación president. With her multiple jobs, incomes and perks, she had become a symbol of how politicians were milking public funds while other Spaniards struggled to cope with the recession that had devastated the country since the 2008 financial crisis. In a country with 25% unemployment, here was a woman with 12 jobs.
2. 'Black' credit cards for those at the top of the Spanish Basketball Association. Astronomical sums spent at restaurants. Click here, in Spanish.
3. Municipal Corruption. El País reveals there are at least 100 town halls issuing construction licences 'irregularly". Click here, in Spanish.
3. Municipal Corruption. El País reveals there are at least 100 town halls issuing construction licences 'irregularly". Click here, in Spanish.
1. The CIA once sponsored coups with tanks, now Putin can do it with the click of a mouse: Con Coughlin
In the world of global espionage it used to be the case that, if you wanted to stage a coup, what you needed was a rebel group that was prepared to drive its tanks through the gates of the presidential palace and overthrow the ruler.
The Cold War saw the CIA spend a fortune funding groups dedicated to overthrowing regimes deemed to be either unfriendly to Washington or too close to the Soviet Union. Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, Haiti, Zaire, Cuba, Chile: no corner of the world was spared Langley’s determination to shape the global political landscape to Washington’s liking.
Nor were the Americans alone in fomenting unrest and discord. The Soviet Union was just as active in its efforts to proselytise the merits of communism, while the primary role of Britain’s MI6 intelligence service was to infiltrate the highest echelons of Moscow’s military and intelligence establishments, a mission where it achieved remarkable success.
If the old Cold War marked the high-water mark for the old-fashioned military coup, then the new one that Russian President Vladimir Putin seems determined to launch against the West will be fought with a higher level of sophistication.
No one in Washington seems in any doubt that Moscow has been behind the release of thousands of Hillary Clinton’s personal emails that are seriously undermining her attempt to win the presidential election for the Democrats. As with Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed sensitive details concerning America’s intelligence-gathering operations, the Clinton revelations have been made through Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks website.
This has resulted in the unlikely scenario where Donald Trump, the maverick Republican contender, is now publicly heaping praise on a website that prides itself on its Left-wing, anti-establishment credentials. Does Mr Assange really want to go down in history as the man who put Donald Trump in the White House?
The more troubling point, though, is the direct impact Russia’s skillfully managed cyber-offensive on the American political system could have on next week’s poll.
Mrs Clinton has made it clear on the campaign trail that, if she wins, she will take a more robust approach towards Moscow than we have seen from the White House during Barack Obama’s presidency. Denying Mrs Clinton victory, then, is very much in Russia’s interests, particularly if it results in a victory for Mr Trump, who has yet to provide a satisfactory explanation about the close links between his own advisers and the Russian government.
Irrespective of who wins next week’s contest, though, the real concern is that the precedent has been set whereby a hostile government can seek to change the political landscape of a rival nation without having to fire a shot in anger.
For, in the increasingly sophisticated cyber age in which we live, it is far easier and cheaper to undermine opponents through carefully targeted internet attacks than assembling and funding rebel armies. Moscow’s ability to undermine the fundamental infrastructure of government is well known in Ukraine, where a Russian-based cyber attack closed down the country’s power grid.
But it is the ability of cyber warriors to invade the political space that is causing most concern. Apart from interfering in the American democratic process, Russian hackers were most likely behind a massive cyber attack on Germany’s lower house of parliament this year which resulted in its computer systems being closed down for days.
Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, says Britain, too, is a major target for Moscow, with the Russians willing to use “propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyberattacks” to undermine the Government. Nor is Russia the only country employing cyber as a tool of aggression. China, North Korea and Iran are among a number of countries that are known to have developed sophisticated cyber capabilities.
As the most sophisticated cyber attacks are directed from countries with authoritarian regimes, the challenge for Western democracies is to be able to defend themselves without having to compromise the liberties of their citizens.
The first line of defence for countries like Britain against cyber Armageddon is for firms and individuals to take far greater care with their internet security, whether regularly changing passwords or updating anti-virus software.
The sheer scale of the threat, though, means that governments must be just as prepared to protect themselves against unwelcome interference in their political institutions as they are for attacks against their national infrastructure.
Otherwise the day will surely come when powerful democratic states are brought to their knees simply by clicking a mouse.
2. The Guardian view on Russia: neither a partner nor an enemy | Editorial
Recent warnings about Russia’s behaviour have become as numerous as they have been, at times, alarmist. Which isn’t to say they are unfounded. The director general of MI5 in a Guardian interview has now added his voice to a widening group of western officials who describe Russia as a threat, and against which new thinking must be developed. In the past months, Russia has been accused of trying to disrupt the US election through hacking, it has deployed nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad and flown bomber planes across Europe. Moscow has pursued policies in Syria that have less to do with fighting Isis than with carpet bombing civilians.
If Vladimir Putin’s narrative is to make Russia great again, there is by now little doubt he will resort to a wide spectrum of actions, both hard and soft power, to attain that goal. That western officials have been repeatedly caught off-guard says perhaps as much about the illusions or shortfalls of past “reset” policies as it does about the slickness with which the Kremlin has learned, over the years, to read western societies and the way their leaders react – or fail to. More than a decade ago Mr Putin revealed his thinking in an annual address to parliament comparing the US to a Russian folk tale character, remarking: “Comrade wolf knows who to eat.” Few, at the time, could have predicted what would unfold: the first redrawing of borders in Europe through use of force since the second world war (annexation of Crimea), and a pattern of geopolitical confrontation that some have dubbed cold war 2.0.
The Kremlin believes the time has come to seek a form of revenge on the west for having “humiliated” Russia after the dissolution of the USSR. That Russia’s economic collapse in the 1990s and the enlargement of Nato and the EU resulted from decades of communist mismanagement and the legitimate aspirations of nations factors little into this vision. Today the west and Russia find themselves talking past each other on almost all issues. Putin’s propaganda machine has made inroads into the west by exploiting its openness, all the while repressing those who, inside Russia, dare dissent.
What is to be done to avoid escalation? Talk of nuclear confrontation has become commonplace in Russia, something that points to the need for renewed deterrence. Making sure eastern European allies are protected is not provocation. Nato’s new deployments in the Baltic region and Poland are a reaction to, and not the cause of, Russia’s military adventurism in its neighbourhood. The best way to discourage more Russian revisionism is to make clear that red lines will be defended.
Europe can ill afford to let the worst of the 20th century catch up with it in the 21st century. On wider international issues, pressure must be applied wherever it is smart and effective to do so. Spain’s recent refusal to refuel Russia’s aircraft carrier on its way to Syria was an example of how to catch Moscow’s attention. Sanctions over Moscow’s activity in Ukraine should be kept in place until ceasefire requirements are met. Europeans would do well to forge a common response to Russian policies in Syria, which should be seen as part of a wider pattern: chaos on Europe’s doorstep, including refugee movements, serves Mr Putin’s interests because they feed the illiberal forces of which he approves.
This is not to say Russia must be quarantined, nor its leader entirely shunned. Partly what matters is language. Speaking of Russia as a “partner” no longer equates to realities, if only because Moscow consistently relinquishes genuine cooperation and openly casts itself as an alternative, hostile model no longer very interested in international rules. Diplomacy without leverage can be empty choreography, as talks over Syria have shown. Nor should Russia’s power be exaggerated. Its economy is ailing. It has few allies, with China an awkward friend. Mr Putin may choose to designate external enemies and encourage a fortress mentality for domestic consumption, but that does little to bring the investments his country badly needs if it is ever to modernise. The Russian president has shrewdly exploited whatever gaps western powers have offered him, whether through neglect, divisiveness or miscalculation. Mr Putin once said: “the weak get beaten”. He believes the west is weak, hypocritical and decadent. The short-term answer should be a resolute show of transatlantic unity – a question that hangs over the US election. Dialogue with Russia should come with smart leverage – neither aggressive nor complacent. It’s likely the Russian question will not go away for a long time yet – Mr Putin plans to get re-elected in 2018.
3. MI5 has been caught on the back foot once again: Sean O’Neill. The Times.
It’s led by insiders who put the institution first
Russia, the head of MI5 warned yesterday, is using the “whole range of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy in increasingly aggressive ways”.
A decade after the state-sponsored murder of the anti-Putin dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London, Andrew Parker used the first newspaper interview given by a serving MI5 director-general to deliver this statement of the blindingly obvious.
Perhaps it would have been better if Mr Parker had admitted that the Security Service has been largely barking up the wrong tree for the past ten years and underestimated the threat from Putin’s regime.
Over that period, MI5 has put pretty much all of its resources into spying on Islamists. That, of course, was a threat it also discovered late.
Before 2001, little heed was paid to the threat from Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network. MI5 and their friends in Special Branch engaged in a little gentle spying on the jihadists taking refuge in what French intelligence called Londonistan.
The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call to MI5, which spent the next five years striking out at “the crocodiles nearest the boat” as al-Qaeda made repeated attempts to attack Britain. They soon got the better of the new enemy but continued to alarm the public with gloom-laden talk of thousands of extremists at large.
The reality is that most Islamists convicted of plotting terror attacks are halfwits who would struggle to blow up a balloon never mind the Houses of Parliament. One group from Luton wanted to attach a bomb to a remote-controlled car and attack a Territorial Army barracks. Another from Birmingham wanted to make a chemical device out of the contents of thousands of sports injury ice packs (until one of the cell lost all their cash gambling on the currency markets).
Our spooks have talked up the threat from these clowns while appearing to miss the resurgence of Russia, which has been deploying its espionage resources around the world, mounting black propaganda exercises, developing a powerful cybercapability — not to mention invading countries.
One problem is that MI5 is perpetually led by insiders who have spent their entire career inside the organisation. Such people have a tendency to focus on the future of the institutions they love and engage in a constant quest for more staff, money and powers.
This instinct for self-preservation has left MI5 behind the curve far too often. So perhaps we should be a bit concerned that it recently removed all references to the threat posed by China from its official website.
Sean O’Neill is chief reporter