Sunday, November 06, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 6.11.16

SPANISH LIFE/CULTURE

Obesity: This is a growing problem here, with Spain now being said to have the fattest kids in Europe, after little Malta. The region of Andalucia, at least, is trying to do something about this. Click here for details.

SPANISH POLITICS

MSSdS: At the end of this post is an article on La Enana from the Voz de Galicia. I'm not sure it leaves me any the wiser. She is where she is, it seems, because - for an uninspiring leader - she's a safe pair of hands. Here's the original, in Spanish. By the way, the article displays the Spanish love of long sentences, full of relative clauses. On top of long words . . .  No wonder they have to speak so fast! Or possibly just poor writing.

THE SPANISH ECONOMY

Jobs: In a country of almost 20% unemployment, there are 500 vacancies for air traffic controllers. This is partly a result of the unexpectedly good growth in tourism, reflecting problems in other destinations. But what does it say about investment in training? This is widely felt to be a poor relation here, reflecting the fact that most contracts are temporary and short term.

THE USA ELECTION

The Economist's Final View: See the 2nd article after this post for this.

THE EU 

Economic Growth: A Times Headline: Slow growth in eurozone disappoints ECB chiefs. I bet it does.

THE UK

Swearing: A survey over the past 20 years has revealed that women are now using word 'fuck' more often than men. Why am I not surprised?

Ugly New Construction Projects: Reading about the latest Carbuncle award, I saw that Liverpool had won this in 2009 for the truly appalling Pier Head development, right in front of the iconic Three Graces. Click here to see just how dreadful this is. Sadly, no one involved was shot.

THE USA & THE WEST

The Sun is Setting on the Weak, Decadent West: So says the estimable Christopher Booker. Who's a bit of a gadfly, especially when it comes to the EU and AGW. You can see his reasoning in the 3rd article at the end of this post.

GALICIAN STUFF

Pensions:  Galicia is the second worst region as regards funding these and needs to create 400,000 jobs, if the situation is to be remedied. Which is never going to happen, of course. A time-bomb, as the  talented young continue to flee the country.

Inheritances: The tax on these differs from region to region here in Spain. If you live here in Galicia, click here to see how things might just have improved for you in the last year. In Spanish.

THE GALLERY


ARTICLES

1. Supersoraya always wins

For five years she has been the vice president for everything, the most powerful woman in Spain. And will remain so. Soraya Saenz de Santamaria (Valladolid, 1971) has controlled the main levers of government as vice president, Minister of the Presidency, the person responsible for the CNI and the CIS, and president of 5 government committees. Also often the voice and face of the Executive, especially in the early days, to convey bad news about cuts. She has also acted as a troubleshooter when things got ugly, for example during the Ebola crisis.

Right hand and close collaborator of Rajoy, who pulled her out of obscurity when he appointed her parliamentary spokesman in 2008, with the passage of time she has acquired her own profile, that of a woman with much power who prefers not to flaunt it, discreet but with an iron hand, who has appeared publicly every week as a fluent spokesperson, but who can also, out of the spotlight, attend to the plumbing in Moncloa to make things work, and with a growing influence in the media. She has even managed to become the commander a group of faithful, the Sorayos, who include Fátima Báñez, Alfonso Alonso – now returning to the Basque Country - the brothers Alberto and Alvaro Nadal, and José Luis Ayllón who allied himself with Cristobal Montoro so as not to be isolated in the government.

Unlike her great rival, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, who will occupy the smaller ministry of Defence, she has not committed notable mistakes during his tenure. She has been skillful enough to be minimally involved in the cases of corruption that have shaken the PP during the legislature, leaving all wear and tear to the general secretary[MDdC]. Lately also she knew how to escape involvement in the Soria case, endorsing the responsibility of the Ministry of Economy.

She he has always identified as one of the potential successors to Rajoy. There was even talk of an alleged Operation Menina that aim to have her replace the president. She has never taken a single step in this direction and has limited herself to controlling the strings of power and to care for her good image in the media. Even outside Spain, as shown by American newspaper USA Today last year's considering her one of the five most powerful women in Europe and the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung noting that she's called the Spanish Merkel.

Her television appearances dancing freely in El Hormiguero or driving an SUV on Planet Calleja or giving her everything as as a DJ to the tune of La Gozadera, by Marc Anthony, at the close of the PP campaign have given an image of closeness and ease that favours her.

A single child, winner of the Exceptional prize at law school, then a state attorney, in 2000 she was taken on by Francisco Villar to be an adviser to the then vice president and interior minister, Rajoy, and she entered Congress in May 2004 on the departure of [now disgraced] Rodrigo Rato to the IMF. Since then she has proven to be a good parliamentarian and her duels with the socialist Vice President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega are memorable. She even survived the four-way television debates before the elections of last December, which she had to take part in after the flight of her boss[Rajoy]. Supersoraya again came to the rescue with her usual fluency.

Sáenz de Santamaria has emerged relatively unscathed after five years of difficult management in contrast to many ministers who were forced to leave the government or have ended up burned out in this period. While the G8, the group of ministers Rajoy's closest friends, no longer exists after the departure of Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo and Jorge Fernandez Diaz, the Sorayos continue to get positions, with the entrance of Nadal into the government.

A hard worker, well prepared, discreet, efficient and always faithful to the leader, the woman from Valladolid has consolidated her position and is the lead successor to Rajoy. Recalling her early days in politics, days before Rajoy appointed her a vice president in 2011, she declared: "There are very sincere people who now recognize that I don't give a damn about myself" From there, her rise has been meteoric, even to the point of making herself dispensable in government.

2. The presidential election America’s best hope. Why we would cast our hypothetical vote for Hillary Clinton: The Economist.

A quarter of Americans born since 1980 believe that democracy is a bad form of government, many more than did so 20 years ago. If the two main parties had set about designing a contest to feed the doubts of young voters, they could not have done better than this year’s presidential campaign. The vote, on November 8th, is now in sight, yet many Americans would willingly undergo the exercise all over again—with two new candidates. Of course that is not on offer: the next president will be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

The choice is not hard. The campaign has provided daily evidence that Mr Trump would be a terrible president. He has exploited America’s simmering racial tensions. His experience, temperament and character make him horribly unsuited to being the head of state of the nation that the rest of the democratic world looks to for leadership, the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful armed forces and the person who controls America’s nuclear deterrent.

That alone would stop us from casting a vote, if we had one, for Mr Trump. As it happens, he has a set of policies to go with his personality. A Trump government would cut taxes for the richest while imposing trade protection that would raise prices for the poorest. We disagree with him on the environment, immigration, America’s role in the world and other things besides. His ideas on revenue and spending are an affront to statistics. We would sooner have endorsed Richard Nixon—even had we known how he would later come to grief.

Our vote, then, goes to Hillary Clinton. Those who reject her simply because she is a Clinton, and because they detest the Clinton machine, are not paying attention to the turpitude of the alternative. Although, by itself, that is not much of an endorsement, we go further. Mrs Clinton is a better candidate than she seems and better suited to cope with the awful, broken state of Washington politics than her critics will admit. She also deserves to prevail on her own merits.

Like Mr Trump, Mrs Clinton has ideas we disagree with. Her tax plan is fiddly. Her opposition to the trade deal with Asia that she once championed is disheartening. The scale of these defects, though, is measured in tiny increments compared with what Mr Trump proposes. On plenty of other questions her policies are those of the pragmatic centre of the Democratic Party. She wants to lock up fewer non-violent offenders, expand the provision of early education and introduce paid parental leave. She wants to continue Barack Obama’s efforts to slow global warming. In Britain her ideological home would be the mainstream of the Conservative Party; in Germany she would be a Christian Democrat.
In one sense Mrs Clinton is revolutionary. She would be America’s first female president in the 240 years since independence. This is not a clinching reason to vote for her. But it would be a genuine achievement. In every other sense, however, Mrs Clinton is a self-confessed incrementalist. She believes in the power of small changes compounded over time to bring about larger ones. An inability to sound as if she is offering an overnight transformation is one of the things that makes her a bad campaigner. Presidential nominees are now expected to inspire. Mrs Clinton would have been better-suited to the first half-century of presidential campaigns, when the candidates did not even give public speeches.

However, a prosaic style combined with gradualism and hard work could make for a more successful presidency than her critics allow. In foreign policy, where the president’s power is greatest, Mrs Clinton would look out from the desk at a world that has inherited some of the risks of the cold war but not its stability. China’s rise and Russia’s decline call for both flexibility and toughness. International institutions, such as the UN, are weak; terrorism is transnational.

So judgment and experience are essential and, despite Republican attempts to tarnish her over an attack in Benghazi in 2012, Mrs Clinton possesses both. As a senator she did solid work on the armed-services committee; as secretary of state she pursued the president’s policies abroad ably. Her view of America has much in common with Mr Obama’s. She rightly argued for involvement early on in Syria. She has a more straightforward view of America’s capacity to do good; her former boss is more alert to the dangers of good intentions. The difference is of degree, though. Mrs Clinton helped lay the foundations for ending the embargo on Cuba, striking a nuclear deal with Iran and reaching agreement with China on global warming. A Clinton presidency would build on this.

The harder question is how Mrs Clinton would govern at home. It is surely no coincidence that voters whose political consciousness dawned in the years between the attempted impeachment of Bill Clinton and the tawdriness of Mr Trump have such a low opinion of their political system. Over the past two decades political deadlock and mud-slinging have become normalised. Recent sessions of Congress have shut the government down, flirted with a sovereign default and enacted little substantive legislation. Even those conservatives inclined to mistake inaction for limited government are fed up.

The best that can be said of Mr Trump is that his candidacy is a symptom of the popular desire for a political revival. Every outrage and every broken taboo is taken as evidence that he would break the system in order that, overseen by a properly conservative Supreme Court, those who come after him might put something better in its place.

This presidential election matters more than most because of the sheer recklessness of that scheme. It draws upon the belief that the complexity of Washington is smoke and mirrors designed to bamboozle the ordinary citizen; and that the more you know, the less you can be trusted. To hope that any good can come from Mr Trump’s wrecking job reflects a narcissistic belief that compromise in politics is a dirty word and a foolhardy confidence that, after a spell of chaos and demolition, you can magically unite the nation and fix what is wrong.

If she wins, Mrs Clinton will take on the burden of refuting the would-be wreckers. In one way she is the wrong candidate for the job. The wife of a former president, who first moved into the White House almost 24 years ago, is an unlikely herald for renewal. In her long career she has at times occupied a no-man’s-land between worthy and unworthy, legal and illegal. That is why stories about the Clinton Foundation and her e-mails, which the FBI is looking at again, have been so damaging. They may barely register on the Trump-o-Meter of indiscretions but, in office, Mrs Clinton’s reputation for rule-breaking could destroy her.

In another way, she is well-suited to the task. Herding bills through Congress to the point of signing requires a tolerance for patient negotiating and a command of sleep-inducing detail. Though it has been hard to hear above the demand to “lock her up”, Mrs Clinton has campaigned for an open, optimistic country. She can take heart from the fact that, outside Washington, there is more bipartisanship and problem-solving than most Americans realise, and from the fact that popular pessimism has far overshot reality. Around 80% of Trump supporters say that, for people like them, America is worse than it was 50 years ago. That is false: half a century ago 6m households lacked a flushing lavatory. It is also a most un-American way to see the world. The time is ripe for a rebound.

In elections we have sometimes hoped for Congress and the presidency to be controlled by different parties. Some who cannot bring themselves to vote for Mr Trump but do not care for Mrs Clinton either will opt for that choice. Yet the loss of Congress would increase the chances of a Republican Party reformation that both the party and the United States need.

Hence our vote goes to both Mrs Clinton and her party. Partly because she is not Mr Trump, but also in the hope she can show that ordinary politics works for ordinary people—the sort of renewal that American democracy requires.

3. The Sun Sets on the Weak, Decadent West: Christopher Booker.

It might seem odd to see any link between the two mega-crises which were transfixing the attention of the world 60 years ago this weekend and the very different drama transfixing its attention today, as we near the end of the most degraded presidential election in US history. But in a way they are both parts of the same enormous story.

In those early days of November 1956, the political world was plunged into hysteria by the Suez crisis, the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt. This was fast brought to an end by America’s threat to destabilise the pound and even a grandiose threat to shower London and Paris with what turned out to be non-existent nuclear rockets from the Soviet Union, which was simultaneously crushing the revolt against its tyrannical rule in Hungary.

Only a year or two before, Britain under Winston Churchill, with its mighty empire, had still been able to sit alongside the US and the USSR at international conference tables as one of the world’s “Big Three”. The Suez fiasco shattered such illusions forever.

But  Suez  was only one of the many signs around that time that we were at last emerging from the shadows of the Second World War and moving into that unimaginably different modern world we have been living in ever since. In the early Fifties, drab post-war Britain had still been in many ways a very conservative and class-bound country. But suddenly, with the liberating arrival of television, rock ’n’ roll and “affluent” consumerism, we were being carried forward on a torrent of social and moral change unprecedented in history.

Even more than those other Western countries which were undergoing a similar transformation, Britain was turning its back on its past. We rushed to rid itself of our empire and began turning envious eyes on those more “dynamic” continental countries then taking the first steps towards welding Europe together in what would become the European Union.

By the mid-Sixties, when “Old England” had given way to Beatlemania, “Swinging London” and sex-obsessed new plays and films, it was already being noted that Britain had been through a “revolution” – but one which has continued to shape our lives to this day.

If those conservative Britons of the early Fifties could see the society this revolution has now brought about, with half of our children born out of wedlock, same-sex marriage, the all-pervasive cult of empty celebrity, the rise of intolerant “political correctness”, the woefully diminished standing of our politicians, our ever-rising sea of national debt, they would reel back in horror at our “decadence”.

Certainly they would be astonished by how unimaginably richer we have become, and by nothing more than the electronic revolution which has brought us iPhones, the internet, and an economy almost entirely dependent on computers.

But they would be equally astonished by the decay in the standing in the world of the West as a whole, where our societies are also now widely seen as spoiled, emasculated and in relative decline. While we have seen the dramatic economic rise of China and India, we see Europe looking sadder than ever, as the great “European dream” falls apart in one insoluble crisis after another, from the euro to mass-immigration and terrorism.

After eight years in the White House, we see President Obama soon to depart, leaving the world to wonder what on earth the man who came in to such excitement promising “Yes we can” managed to achieve, other than transforming that slogan into “No we can’t” and presiding, like his Western allies, over the greatest debt-mountain in history.

In the first 16 years of the 21st century, the world has entered on another great phase of transformation, as significant as anything seen in the second half of the 20th. On everything from Syria and Ukraine to global warming, the outside world is now running rings round the West, which seems in so many ways to have got itself lost in self-delusion.

Following those hubristic Western interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, which unleashed such chaos, it is President Putin’s post-Communist Russia, allied to the murderous theocracy in Tehran, which can now intervene in the Middle East, as we tried to do in 1956, and there is nothing we can do about it.

After those 60 years of the most rapid and far-reaching change the world has ever known, nothing could better symbolise the pass to which it has brought the West than what is now happening across the Atlantic.

We have all. including probably most Americans, been watching with utter dismay this squalid contest between “a crook and a madman”, complete with corruption and sex-scandals, for which of them will be chosen this Tuesday to inherit the position which, 60 years ago, was plausibly regarded as that of “the leader of the free world”.

The collapse of Soviet (but not Chinese) Communism apart, the world is no longer anything like as free as it was then, and is becoming more dangerous by the year. What happens in the USA this week offers little hope that this at least might change.

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