Thursday, January 04, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia: 4.1.18

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.

Spain

Per Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas
  • There are better than nine hundred Partido Popular members under investigation or being processed for corruption, says Diario 16. Corruption, says the news-site, costs 90,000 million euros a year to the taxpayers. And
  • Spain has not complied with any of the eleven measures proposed by Europe to fight corruption. Four recommendations have not been implemented at all and seven others have been partially implemented. It is the conclusion of the report published by the Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe (GRECO), which has stated that Spain has a level of compliance with the recommendations which is "globally unsatisfactory". And
  • Since 2008, the average price of a house in Spain has fallen by a third.  Maybe.
The USA
  • What an unalloyed joy to see the developing spat between 2 madmen with humungous egos – Fart and Bannon.
  • See below for extracts from the book of the moment. They would be truly astonishing if we didn't now know so much about Fart and his White House. As the author says: Few people who knew Trump had illusions about him. That was his appeal: he was what he was. Twinkle in his eye, larceny in his soul. Everybody in his rich-guy social circle knew about his wide-ranging ignorance.
  • I enjoyed seeing the endorsement of my own pre-election view that Fart not only didn't expect to win but, indeed, didn't want to win. His wife even less so. The reluctant phony, then. But capable of massive damage to the USA. 'Loose cannon' doesn't do anything like justice to him.
  • Coincidentally, I was listening to an old BBC comedy podcast yesterday morning, from late 2013. It talked of Mitt Romney being the runaway favourite election. Trump wasn't even mentioned . . .
The Spanish Language
  1. I really should have realised that un cúaqero is a Quaker.
  2. In case you should need it . . . The Spanish for duct (not duck) tape seems to be cinta americana. And you can get it in black.
Social Media
  • If you haven't read the (long) article I cited yesterday, I urge you to do so. It's really quite frightening. 
  • It calls for action against Facebook in particular. In this, Germany seems to be ahead of the game, having just introduced a law aimed at tackling fake news. It gives online service providers 24 hours from a complaint to take down material deemed to be illegal, hate speech or fake news. If they fail, they can be fined up to €50 million.
  • But, as one commentator puts it: Big Tech has a lot to answer for. Its contempt for laws on decency and defamation often blot out the great advantages it has brought us. But as we work out how to bring law and order to the digital Wild West, we need to remember the comment of Louis Brandeis, the great US Supreme Court justice - that “without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; [but] with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine”. Not an easy balance to achieve.
Galicia
  • The first child to be born here in 2018 was named Brais: This seems to be both a male and female name and is more common in this region than elsewhere. Depending on who you ask, it's origin is said to be Latin or (of course) Celtic. The Castillian version is Blas, after a Catholic saint born in Armenia. Brais is said by some to mean tartamudo in some Celtic language or other. Or 'stammerer/stutterer'. It's a strange parental world. In Galicia at least . . .
Pontevedra
  • Why am I not surprised to read (again) that the km point 146.9 on our N-550 towards Porriño harbours one of the most profitable radar traps in Spain? Where I was caught early one Sunday morning doing 69 in what every sane person would think was a 70kph zone. A 'trap' of the very first order.
Finally
  •  The sort of headline you don't often see: Royal harpist and her lover accused of sex with 14 year old boy.
Today's Cartoon

New Year resolutions . . .



THE ARTICLE

Michael Wolff book: inside the Trump White House with Bannon, Kushner, Conway and Melania: Peter Hobday

On the afternoon of November 8, 2016, Kellyanne Conway settled into her glass office at Trump Tower. Right up until the last weeks of the race, the campaign headquarters had remained a listless place. All that seemed to distinguish it from a corporate back office were a few posters with right-wing slogans.

Conway, the campaign’s manager, was in a remarkably buoyant mood, considering she was about to experience a resounding defeat. Donald Trump would lose the election — of this she was sure. She had spent a good part of the day calling friends and allies in the political world and blaming Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Now she briefed some of the television producers and anchors whom she had been carefully courting since joining the Trump campaign — and with whom she had been actively interviewing in the last few weeks, hoping to land a permanent on-air job after the election.

Even though the numbers in a few key states had appeared to be changing to Trump’s advantage, neither Conway nor Trump himself nor his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — the effective head of the campaign — wavered in their certainty: their unexpected adventure would soon be over. Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be. Conveniently, the former conviction meant nobody had to deal with the latter issue.

As the campaign came to an end, Trump himself was sanguine. His ultimate goal, after all, had never been to win. “I can be the most famous man in the world,” he had told his aide Sam Nunberg at the outset of the race. His longtime friend Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News, liked to say that if you want a career in television, first run for president. Now Trump, encouraged by Ailes, was floating rumours about a Trump network. It was a great future. He would come out of this campaign, Trump assured Ailes, with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities.

This is bigger than I ever dreamt of,” he told Ailes a week before the election. “I don’t think about losing, because it isn’t losing. We’ve totally won.”

From the start, the leitmotif for Trump about his own campaign was how crappy it was, and how everybody involved in it was a loser. In August, when he was trailing Hillary Clinton by more than 12 points, he couldn’t conjure even a far-fetched scenario for achieving an electoral victory. He was baffled when the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, a Ted Cruz backer whom Trump barely knew, offered Trump’s campaign an infusion of $5 million. Trump didn’t turn down the help — he just expressed vast incomprehension about why anyone would want to do that. “This thing,” he told Mercer, “is so f***ed up.”

Steve Bannon, who became chief executive of Trump’s team in mid-August [2016], called it “the broke-dick campaign”. Almost immediately, he saw that it was hampered by an even deeper structural flaw: the candidate who billed himself as a billionaire — ten times over — refused to invest his own money in it. Bannon told Kushner that, after the first debate in September, they would need another $50 million to cover them until election day.

No way we’ll get $50 million unless we can guarantee him victory,” a clear-eyed Kushner said.
Twenty-five million?” prodded Bannon.
If we can say victory is more than likely.”

In the end, the best Trump would do is to loan the campaign $10 million, provided he got it back as soon as they could raise other money.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and property holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared, would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the Tea Party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.

Shortly after 8pm on election night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Donald Trump Jr told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears — and not of joy. There was, in the space of little more than an hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: suddenly, Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be, and was wholly capable of being, the president of the United States.

THE INAUGURATION

Few people who knew Trump had illusions about him. That was his appeal: he was what he was. Twinkle in his eye, larceny in his soul. Everybody in his rich-guy social circle knew about his wide-ranging ignorance. Early in the campaign, Sam Nunberg, a campaign official, was sent to explain the constitution to the candidate. “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,” Nunberg recalled, “before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”

Trump did not enjoy his own inauguration. He was angry that A-level stars had snubbed the event, disgruntled with the accommodations at Blair House — the president’s guest house — and visibly fighting with his wife, who seemed on the verge of tears. He wore what some around him had taken to calling his golf face: angry and pissed off, shoulders hunched, arms swinging, brow furled, lips pursed.

BANNON THE AUTEUR

Meanwhile, Steve Bannon, in the role he had conceived for himself, the auteur of the Trump presidency, charged forward. The real enemy, he said, was China. China was the first front in a new Cold War.

China’s everything. Nothing else matters. We don’t get China right, we don’t get anything right. This whole thing is very simple. China is where Nazi Germany was in 1929 to 1930. The Chinese, like the Germans, are the most rational people in the world, until they’re not. And they’re gonna flip like Germany in the Thirties. You’re going to have a hypernationalist state, and once that happens you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

Those who had worked on the campaign noticed the sudden change. Within the first week in office, Bannon seemed to have put away the camaraderie of Trump Tower and become far more remote, if not unreachable. “What’s up with Steve?” Kushner began to ask. “I don’t understand. We were so close.” Now that Trump had been elected, Bannon was already focused on his next goal: capturing the soul of the Trump White House.

This was the message whose urgency Bannon had been trying to impress on an often distracted Trump, who was already trying to limit his hours in the office and keep to his normal golf habits. Bannon’s strategic view of government was shock and awe. In his head, he carried a set of decisive actions that would not just mark the new administration’s opening days but make it clear that nothing ever again would be the same. He had quietly assembled a list of more than 200 executive orders to issue in the first 100 days. The very first EO, in his view, had to be a crackdown on immigration. After all, it was one of Trump’s core campaign promises. Plus, Bannon knew, it was an issue that made liberals batshit mad.

Bannon could push through his agenda for a simple reason: because nobody in the administration really had a job. Priebus, as chief of staff, had to organise meetings, hire staff, and oversee the individual offices in the executive-branch departments. But Bannon, Kushner and Ivanka Trump had no specific responsibilities — they did what they wanted. And for Bannon, the will to get big things done was how big things got done. “Chaos was Steve’s strategy,” one insider said.

JARVANKA

The First Children couple were having to navigate Trump’s volatile nature just like everyone else in the White House. And they were willing to do it for the same reason as everyone else — in the hope that Trump’s unexpected victory would catapult them into a heretofore unimagined big time. Balancing risk against reward, both Jared and Ivanka decided to accept roles in the West Wing over the advice of almost everyone they knew. It was a joint decision by the couple, and, in some sense, a joint job. Between themselves, the two had made an earnest deal: if sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she’d be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump. Bannon, who had coined the term “Jarvanka” that was now in ever greater use in the White House, was horrified when the couple’s deal was reported to him. “They didn’t say that?” he said. “Stop. Oh, come on. They didn’t actually say that? Please don’t tell me that. Oh my God.”

The truth was, Ivanka and Jared were as much the chief of staff as Priebus or Bannon, all of them reporting directly to the president. The couple had opted for formal jobs in the West Wing, in part because they knew that influencing Trump required you to be all-in. From phone call to phone call — and his day, beyond organised meetings, was almost entirely phone calls — you could lose him. He could not really converse, not in the sense of sharing information, or of a balanced back-and-forth conversation. He neither particularly listened to what was said to him nor particularly considered what he said in response. He demanded you pay him attention, then decided you were weak for grovelling. In a sense, he was like an instinctive, pampered and hugely successful actor. Everybody was either a lackey who did his bidding or a high-ranking film functionary trying to coax out his performance — without making him angry or petulant.

Ivanka maintained a relationship with her father that was in no way conventional. She was a helper not just in his business dealings but in his marital realignments. If it wasn’t pure opportunism, it was certainly transactional. For Ivanka, it was all business — building the Trump brand, the presidential campaign, and now the White House. She treated her father with a degree of detachment, even irony, going so far as to make fun of his comb-over to others. She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate — a contained island after scalp-reduction surgery — surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the centre and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The colour, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men — the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond hair colour.

Nothing contributed to the chaos and dysfunction of the White House as much as Trump’s own behaviour. The big deal of being president was just not apparent to him. Most victorious candidates, arriving in the White House from ordinary political life, could not help but be reminded of their transformed circumstances by their sudden elevation to a mansion with palace-like servants and security, a plane at constant readiness and downstairs a retinue of courtiers and advisers. But this wasn’t that different from Trump’s former life in Trump Tower, which was actually more commodious and to his taste than the White House.

Trump, in fact, found the White House to be vexing and even a little scary. He retreated to his own bedroom — the first time since the Kennedy White House that a presidential couple had maintained separate rooms. In the first days he ordered two television screens in addition to the one already there, and a lock on the door, precipitating a brief standoff with the secret service, who insisted they have access to the room. He reprimanded the housekeeping staff for picking up his shirt from the floor: “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.” Then he imposed a set of new rules: nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush. (He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.) Also, he would let housekeeping know when he wanted his sheets done, and he would strip his own bed.

If he was not having his 6.30 dinner with Steve Bannon, then, more to his liking, he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls — the phone was his true contact point with the world — to a small group of friends, who charted his rising and falling levels of agitation through the evening and then compared notes with one another.

DAILY WAR OF THREE ADVISERS

Priebus and Bannon and Kushner were all fighting to be the power behind the Trump throne. And in these crosshairs was Katie Walsh, the deputy chief of staff. It became clear to her that “the three gentlemen running things”, as she came to characterise them, had each found his own way to appeal to the president. Bannon offered a rousing fuck-you show of force; Priebus offered flattery from the congressional leadership; Kushner offered the approval of blue-chip businessmen. Each appeal was exactly what Trump wanted from the presidency, and he didn’t understand why he couldn’t have them all. He wanted to break things, he wanted Congress to give him bills to sign and he wanted the love and respect of New York machers and socialites.

As soon as the campaign team had stepped into the White House, Walsh saw, it had gone from managing Trump to the expectation of being managed by him. Yet the president, while proposing the most radical departure from governing and policy norms in several generations, had few specific ideas about how to turn his themes and vitriol into policy. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim.
And if Bannon, Priebus, and Kushner were now fighting a daily war with one another, it was exacerbated by the running disinformation campaign about them that was being prosecuted by the president himself.

When he got on the phone after dinner, he’d speculate on the flaws and weaknesses of each member of his staff. Bannon was disloyal (not to mention he always looks like shit). Priebus was weak (not to mention he was short — a midget). Kushner was a suck-up. Sean Spicer was stupid (and looks terrible too). Conway was a crybaby. Jared and Ivanka should never have come to Washington.

© Michael Wolff 2018 Extracted from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, to be published by Little, Brown on January 9 at £20

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