Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • The cities of Barcelona and Valencia and the island of Ibiza are heartily fed up of excess numbers of tourists. They're being Venice-ised, it's said. More here
  • If I mention tulips, you'll doubtless think of Holland. And maybe even the tulip financial bubble. It turns out that neither this nor the British South Sea bubble were the first of this kind of thing. This honour goes, in fact, to Spain. For that very Spanish thing, the corrupt sale of offices. See here, in Spanish.
  • With La Crisis well and truly over, emigrants are returning to Spain. In these numbers so far this year:-
Madrid: 16,000
Cataluña: 9,000
Galicia, Valencia and Andalucia: 5,000
Castilla y León: 2,000

Here's the opening points of an interesting article on the issue of free movement of people in the EU:- Cars crossing from Italy into France are being stopped and searched. Their drivers and passengers are being interrogated and made to show their national identity documents. So much for open borders. Presumably France is being permitted to puncture the spirit of the Schengen agreement because Emmanuel Macron is the current darling of European Union optimists. He is taking apparent liberties with what Michel Barnier constantly reminds us is the sacred EU principle of free movement of people, for which the leaders of countries such as Poland and Hungary would be castigated. So, the same old different strokes for different folks. See the end of this post for the whole article.

Which reminds me . . . I was rather brought up with a start by the claim I read last week that within 13 years Africa will have another 500 million inhabitants.

But I didn't react at all to the headline (in Spanish) that: A Spain in which no one trusts anyone else. Didn't bother to read the article, though. And it surely can't be totally true.

The second article at the end of this post talks of Trump's probable plan to grant pardons to everyone implicated in the Russia imbroglio. Mostly his relatives, of course.

Facebook is a weird nexus. Presumably reflecting the interests of my diverse range of friends, yesterday was was invited to joint the Young Conservatives, the Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party Forum and the Friends of Jacob Rees Mogg. I guess it makes sense to someone.

Very locally, I discovered last week why my GP had disappeared and why the receptionist now sits behind glass. Both had suffered the occupational hazard of being attacked by our local gypsies because a patient had not recovered sufficiently quickly. If at all. I'd heard of this happening in the hospitals but not in GP surgeries. One problem the UK NHS doesn't suffer from.

Yesterday in my regular bar, 2 notable things happened:-
  1. I didn't finish the 'special tortilla' that they make for me. Too dry and mushy. Being still semi-British, I didn't complain but answered the waiter when he asked what the matter with it was. I later wondered whether he'd told his girlfriend – the sous-cook who'd made it – and wondered if my acting according to British cultural norms would upset her. Instead of being Spanish and sending it straight back to the kitchen, I'd done the British thing of being indirecta and making it clear(??) it was substandard and waiting for a response from the owners. Which didn't come, of course.
  2. While I was talking to a trio of Irish tourists, a 20-strong stag party arrived at the next bar on the terrace and kicked up noise that was – even by Spanish standards – extreme. So I went and - jocularly – pointed out that we couldn't hear ourselves speak 3 metres away. Their first reaction was to get louder. Their second was to laugh. And their third was to invite me to join them for a drink. Which I did. Though the – distinctly hungover-looking – groom didn't appear to appreciate my jokes about marriage. I asked if the wedding was today but they told me it was to be in September. The lucky young man, they added, had to go away to sea in the meantime. A very Spanish happening.
Finally . . . Here's some jolly fotos taken on Thursday, and yesterday. I wondered whether it was a good example of the graffiti which plagues the old quarter but I now think it's something about to open there. Perhaps the millionth bar:-

Meanwhile, here's yet another high street dental operation, down at the bottom of the old quarter, where there was a Grand Opening cocktail party on Saturday evening:-

Today's cartoon:-


1.  Freedom of movement in Europe will end. But will it be orderly or chaotic? Janet Daley.

Cars crossing from Italy into France are being stopped and searched. Their drivers and passengers are being interrogated and made to show their national identity documents. So much for open borders. Presumably France is being permitted to puncture the spirit of the Schengen agreement because Emmanuel Macron is the current darling of European Union optimists. He is taking apparent liberties with what Michel Barnier constantly reminds us is the sacred EU principle of free movement of people, for which the leaders of countries such as Poland and Hungary would be castigated. 

Mr Macron and his border enforcement teams would, of course, argue that these procedures are not designed to prevent the populations of member states from exercising their right to live and work anywhere within the EU, but to prevent an unlimited influx of migrants from the rest of the world being transported across the continent illegally.

That justification for the vigorous policing of the crossing point between the migrant camp at Ventimiglia on the Italian side and the open country of France and points North on the other neatly misses the point.

It is precisely the freedom of movement guaranteed to legitimate EU citizens that is exacerbating (or helping to create) the mass migration problem, by portraying Europe as an unpoliced, open-access, free-for-all.

The movement of peoples from poor or war-ravaged countries to rich, stable ones is nothing new. Nor are civil war, tyranny and poverty in Africa and the Middle East anything new (although much of the developing world is now emerging from poverty as a consequence of free trade). The determination to escape from such conditions has been a fact of global life for generations.

What has given a fresh impetus to the possibility of such movement – and particularly to economic migration – is the miraculous invitation offered by a borderless Europe. The message went out to the world: set foot on any Greek island, or on the southernmost rocky prominence of Italy, and you will become effectively invisible, able to make your way unhindered to any of the flourishing nations of Western Europe because, even though you are not legally entitled to the “free movement” rights that belong to EU citizens, there will be no checks at national crossing points to impede you.

So every coastline entry point and every land border became a target for the criminally ruthless people-trafficking industry that could offer heaven on earth to the desperate – or at least to those who had enough money to pay what it demanded (which is to say, not the poorest or most desperate).

So this is the other side of that sacrosanct principle which has become an intractable sticking point in the Brexit negotiations as well as the most incendiary issue within the EU itself. Now it seems that Philip Hammond has won the fight within Cabinet to maintain the free movement of people for an as yet unspecified transition period (two years? four years? for ever?) because business interests have expressed so much concern about losing the infinite supply of workers that the less fortunate member countries provide.

And here is the essence of it: many business sectors in Britain, from agriculture to catering, have become dependent on a permanent flow of foreign staff. There is an economic justification, at least in the short term, for letting this continue, even though it will specifically flout the stated desires of the population and thus risk dangerous political backlash.

Similarly, Germany, where an ageing population is in need of an injection of young workers, benefits massively not only from the importation of eastern and southern Europeans but potentially from the Syrian refugees that it so controversially welcomed. It is hardly surprising that Germany – and the Brussels establishment over which it has such influence – is one of the most implacable advocates of free movement.

But ask yourself: what effect is that diaspora of young people fleeing from the poorer countries of the EU and the rest of the world, offering their labour and energies to richer countries, likely to have in the end?

Those poorer, former communist EU states that have had such a bad press for their hostility to migrants can see very clearly where this might be heading: to permanent backwardness and dependence on bail-outs – ironically from Germany, whose own population so resents this arrangement.

It is significant that this troublesome principle is now always described by the Brussels apparat as the “free movement of people”, which seems to imbue it with an almost Biblical righteousness. But the actual wording of the EU rule refers to the “free movement of workers”.

Free movement is applied to four categories as if they were morally equivalent: goods, capital, services and labour. Goods are things, capital is money, and services are transactions: to treat workers as if they were not qualitatively different from the others is an almost perfect example of what Marx called the “commodification of labour”. Turning people into one more financial resource for business may suit the corporate interests of Europe (and the UK) very well, but it hardly seems to match the idealistic aspirations of the European project. Is this what is meant by a Brexit that “puts jobs first”?

The mutual suspicion and political destabilisation of Europe that is being precipitated by the migrant crisis will have to be faced, whatever terms the UK accepts.

Italy’s populist Five Star Movement is making hay over the French hard line on its border. Even Italian politicians of more conventional persuasions are furious that their country – which has 40 per cent youth unemployment – is being left to cope with the migrant flow that is being shut out by France, just as Greece was left to cope when it was the arrival point of choice last summer.

The failure of the EU to deal with migration is not just incompetence: it comes from a basic refusal to accept that its member states have different and conflicting needs. To save the rest of the project, “free movement” will have to be shut down: the only question is how organised or chaotic that process is going to be.

2.  So this is Donald Trump's Russian endgame: he might actually just pardon his relatives. 

So there we have it. Confirmation, if any were needed, appears on the front page of the Washington Post this morning telling us that White House lawyers have begun discussing using presidential pardons to limit the damage from the ever expanding Russia investigation.

The prospect has circulated for weeks as the circle of senior officials and politicians caught up in a web of accusations and supposition grows.

It forms the second part part of a two-pronged strategy to defend the president. It involves first undermining Robert Mueller, who heads the federal investigation into Russian meddling, and then holding out the possibility of issuing pardons to draw a line under the whole sorry thing.

Last Sunday, Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, did the Full Ginsberg, appearing on all five major political talk shows (an impressive feat pioneered by William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer in 1998) to attack the legitimacy of Mr Mueller’s inquiry.

He did so by claiming it was the dastardly product of James Comey, the fired FBI director, and his decision to leak details of a private conversation with the president. His claim, of course, is backed by Mr Comey himself who said under oath that was exactly the reason for leaking a memo.

So in Mr Sekulow’s telling, Mr Mueller’s appointment was the result of “illegally leaked” information and a plot to install a special counsel.

To Trump supporters it is clear a conspiracy is afoot to ensnare their man. Drastic times call for drastic measures, which is where the pardons come in.

American presidents have sweeping powers to pardon individuals even before they are convicted. Richard Nixon, who resigned as president in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, was given a pre-emptive pardon by his successor Gerald Ford. It covered any crimes he may have committed during his time in office. 

Mr Ford was well within his rights to do so but was condemned for striking a “corrupt bargain”. He lost his bid for re-election two years later, a defeat he blamed on that generosity.

Mr Trump may well reflect on Mr Ford’s fate as his lawyers mull the pros and cons of killing the Russia investigation with clemency. (OK, he won’t. He has no time for historical analysis and presidential precedent so just bear with me here.)

But if we have learnt anything in the two years since this unconventional politician began his improbable rise, it is that political norms and niceties no longer apply.

Pardoning close associates and relatives is less of a self-serving act if supporters believe Mr Trump is the victim of a witch hunt.

And, in these polarised times, angering the opposition is a win in itself.


Sierra said...

Given the recent Galician population statistics, a few immigrants must be welcome - "The IGE puts the number of deaths at 31,473 last year and follows the decline in births, with 19,952" also the news that:

"With this fundamental problem, at the end of 2016 a total of 167 concellos had already more beneficiaries of contributory benefits than contributors, that is, 53% of the total. The imbalance grows year by year, since in 2011 there were 157 municipalities with more pensioners than taxpayers. In a pay-as-you-go system such as Spanish, in which the quotas that come out of wages finance the benefits of the moment, these figures mean that Galicia hardly has 1.4 workers per pensioner. In Spain, the rate is 2.1"

Sierra said...

"One problem the UK NHS doesn't suffer from":

Colin Davies said...

Yes, but not from patients. Regularly.

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