Saturday, June 02, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 2.6.18

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 pagehere.

  • Well, against all expectations, Rajoy didn't resign and so suffered a successful censure motion against him personally. Shakespeare wrote that Nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility. Rajoy showed a lot of (non-modest) stillness but very little, if any, humility. And his departure was less than honourable. Let's assume he was even more stunned at the week's denouement than the rest of us. And probably had a humngus hangover from his 8 hour lunch on Thursday.
  • Here's one accurate verdict on Rajoy: Mariano Rajoy was known as the Teflon prime minister. No scandal or crisis, no matter how serious, seemed to stick to him. He survived a deep economic recession and the bailout of Spain’s banks. He even survived the Catalan independence drive which threatened to split the country in two. Eventually, however, the stench of corruption, which had hung for so long over the Popular Party (PP), brought Mr Rajoy down. Some believe that he had become so used to surviving crises that he did not believe that the no-confidence motion submitted to Spain’s parliament this week would touch him. “He believed he was immortal,” Lucía Méndez, a political commentator, said. . . . What the public found most difficult to stomach was that Mr Rajoy refused to accept that his party had a problem with corruption. He had also failed to bring in sweeping reforms to tackle such abuses.
  • Going forward, as they say,  . . .  Spain seems to have taken a large step away from corruption, diluted Francoism/ authoritarianism and the Catholic church. Which has to be a good thing, even if the political times ahead will be volatile. At least some optimism must be well-founded.
  • A good early step on the new PM's part was to announce that direct rule over Cataluña will be ended
  • This is an excellent article from Giles Tremlett in The Guardian on the challenges faced by the new PM. I've made it easy for you by posting it below. As GT says - and as I've commented several times when differentiating between Spain's macro and micro economies - one consequence of Rajoy's rule is that Spain is now the most unequal large country in Europe.
  • I bet you didn't know that God ordained Trump’s presidency while mass prayer helped bring it into fruition. The film cited here might or might not convince you of this.
  • Meanwhile, in the real world: President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to slap steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union, Canada and Mexico capped a whipsaw week that reflected not just the deep divisions among his top economic advisers but the changeable attitudes of the irascible and unpredictable president himself. Senior administration officials profess privately to not know exactly what Trump will ultimately decide to do on trade at any given moment. The uncertainty has led the president’s advisers to compete for his attention in a bid to sway him, leading to nasty behind-the-scenes fights that are increasingly bursting into public view.
Social Media
  • I didn't know but you can install an app on someone else's phone to keep track of them. Useful for worried parents, of course, but also a dream for stalkers and abusers. Needless to say: Google has been profiting from the sale of more than 3,000 of these apps.
  • Here's a nice 10 minute video of Pontevedra city, which I came across as I was trying to find on youtube a video on Galicia which, again, Blogspot, refuses to post. I suspect it was shot early on Sunday, which would explain the absence of beggars. See if you can identify the only building in the city showing any Moorish influence.
Finally . . .
  • Duff Cooper's son - John Julius Cooper - died recently. Here's bits from a long obituary in today's Times:- The omens were favourable from the start. He was the only child of the society beauty Lady Diana Cooper and the highly accomplished diplomat, politician and philanderer Alfred Duff Cooper — good looks, brains and roguish charm were his by inheritance. . . . He will be remembered for being convivial to a fault, scrupulously congenial and self-deprecating to a heroic degree. . . He delighted in telling people how his memoirs had been rejected by every publishing house in London because he’d had it “too bloody easy” all his life. . . . He claimed to take his father’s infidelities in his stride, and attributed his failure to see what was going on to his being “a stolid, unimaginative child’’. . . . His mother knew, he said, and “didn’t mind a bit. They had an incredibly happy marriage, but my father wasn’t faithful to her for a single second.” . . . It wasn’t quite a case of like father, like son, but in terms of living a vibrant and textured life, the second Viscount Norwich did the first proud.
  • I found only one definition of a 'gentleman's family' on the net. It suggests not 2 daughters but one of each sex. I would post the link but it no longer works . . .
© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 2.6.18


Rajoy is gone. Can Pedro Sánchez tackle the corruption plaguing Spain?: Giles Tremlett 

After years of conservative-led scandal and turmoil, the new prime minister must show social democracy still has teeth

The surprise in Spain is not that the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has gone, but that he lasted so long. His conservative People’s party (PP) had been knee-deep in corruption scandals for years. So many of the party’s principal players were involved that it became impossible to blame a few rotten apples. The barrel itself stank of putrefaction.

Somehow, however, events conspired to keep Rajoy in power. It was only when his police began beating up citizens in the streets of Catalonia that the rest of the world woke up to what that might actually mean. The worst part of his legacy is a restriction of fundamental rights and his overempowerment of a police force that can now even fine people for taking photographs of suspected abuses.

Rajoy’s conversion of the constitutional court into not just an arbiter of right and wrong but an actor in the implementation of policy has produced a dangerous conflation of politics and justice that leaves the latter wide open to abuse. By weaponising the courts, he turned political problems – including those in Catalonia – into legal ones. It was a renunciation of responsibility and leadership.

Rajoy’s successes, however, point to why Spain’s new socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, will now find it so hard to govern. His predecessor’s ability to hold on to power had as much to with disarray on the left as it did with his own considerable, if low-key, tenacity.

The dispute between social democracy and its leftwing contenders, represented by Podemos, has been as harsh as that between left and right. Can they now work together? All this is complicated further by the joyous abandon with which nationalists of all kinds have destroyed much of the common ground that unites the Spanish.

Sánchez is the overnight sensation of an otherwise moribund political beast – European social democracy. He may also be its last hope. He has the poster-boy appeal of a Justin Trudeau or an Emmanuel Macron, and the same tendency to occupy a broad stretch of centre ground.

Sánchez has a far steeper mountain to climb, however, than either of the other two heroes of what may eventually become a new centrist consensus. Many voters recall that it was Sánchez’s party, under the former prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, that first sacrificed the welfare of ordinary Spaniards on the altar of eurozone austerity. With Rajoy’s support, they changed the constitution, turning strict budget control into an absolute mandate and imposing a dramatic internal devaluation based on job and salary cuts. As a result, Spain is now the most unequal large country in Europe – above even the United Kingdom. The changes introduced to the constitution were proof that a document that Spanish politicians so often claim is untouchable can be altered in the blink of an eye – but only if Angela Merkel so desires.

There is, however, also hope in Spain. For the art of politics is still alive and thriving. While Italy churns and Britain rips itself apart over Brexit, even the supposedly radical left of Podemos is brimful of ideas and practical political solutions to everyday problems. It is also the country where, despite a huge influx of migrants at the beginning of the century, immigration is a non-issue. Were it not for the craziness in Catalonia, indeed, Spain could boast that this is the place where politicians have tried hardest to avoid the cynical drift towards demagoguery.

There has, however, always been a gaping hole in the proud story that Spaniards tell themselves about their post-dictatorship practice of democracy. That hole is called corruption. It ended the socialist hegemony of Felipe González in the 1990s, has destroyed the rightwing era of Rajoy and has irretrievably damaged the reputation of his PP predecessor, José María Aznar.

Too often, politicians conflate public power with personal property. The court system is so sluggish that, when those who steal public funds are finally caught, it takes a decade or more to bring cases to trial. The final nail in Rajoy’s coffin, for example, was the preliminary sentence in a case that took nine years to prove that his party was systematically taking backhanders.

Even Spain’s version of the global financial crisis, where the economy is only now returning to the size of a decade ago, was aggravated by politically controlled savings banks that pumped extra air into an overinflated property bubble. Many of the politicians involved also lined their pockets along the way.

The fractious parliament that must now govern Spain should, in theory, be able to tackle systemic elements of corruption by insisting on greater transparency, speeding up the court system and increasing penalties.

Even if his government only lasts for a few months, that could be Sánchez’s single great legacy to his country. Social democracy has one foot in the grave. If he cannot deliver a solution to Spain’s political corruption, Sánchez risks burying it forever.

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