Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 17.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German/Hamburg
  • I had my first experience of a paternoster lift this week. And discovered here the origin of the name for them. There are an astonishing 230 of these contraptions here in Germany.
Matters Spanish
  • Gibraltar, the UK and Spain are going to cooperate via a committee. I wonder how this will be different from the system of tripartite meetings set up – wisely – by the previous left-of-centre PSOE government and then immediately scrapped by the incoming right-of-centre PP party when it got back into power in 2011(?).
[If you can bear it] Brexit
  • As 5 of Mrs May's cabinet gear up to try to persuade her to go back to Brussels for a better deal – accompanied perhaps by The Light Brigade - some of the EU leaders are complaining that the 'final' one on the table is too soft. Looks like a recipe for progress, doesn't it?
  • At least one British observer thinks Brussels would extend the exit deadline in return for a 2nd referendum. Well, whyever not? Nothing much to lose.
  • The article below is a - possibly balanced – view of said Mrs May.
  • At the Kunsthalle art gallery yesterday, I saw this picture, entitled The Genius of France, between Liberty and Death. It struck me the struggling angel could represent Brexit in the eyes of some, trying to escape Death and reach the embrace of Freedom. Amidst a bloody revolution:-

Social Media
Finally . . .
  • Here's a warning about something which is almost certainly not confined to Spain.
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 


The PM was at her best alone and friendless: Janice Turner, The Times

As a typical only child, Theresa May is unclubbable and gauche but also has the strength not to give a damn

Almost since she took office, I’ve wondered why Theresa May carries on. Imagine you must solve an impossible conundrum knowing your solution will please no one; you must square up to your peers in Europe who mock, pity and delight in your doom; an intemperate opposition, with no clue of its own, shrieks from the sidelines; while your colleagues are self-serving shysters, tweedy totalitarians and privileged bolters who unzip Savile Row flies to hose down your tent.

It’s not as if Mrs May relishes the trappings of power. No kingly Cameronian swanning around Chequers with chums, just weekends at home, at church, browsing her cookbooks with Philip. No preening Tony Blair pleasure in public performance for the most awkward woman alive. She is not young, she has diabetes, she could enjoy city directorships and a nice quiet life. Why rise each morning to fresh hell?

No one in politics “loves” Theresa May, she has few acolytes, no one thrills to hear her speak, her memoirs (if she bothers) will hit the remainder pile. But watching her press conference on Thursday it was hard — even if you’d never vote for her — not to feel respect. When she said, “I firmly believe that the draft withdrawal agreement was the best that could be negotiated”, I’d bet mainstream voters, the non-mad Leavers and just-get-on-with-it Remainers agreed.

She had recognised that freedom of movement, not a customs union (which many don’t understand, let alone care about), was the Brexit red line. And she applied such talents, energy and intellect as she has to win that demand without shafting the economy. While David Cameron skulked in his shepherd’s hut, David Davis could barely be bothered to go to Brussels and every other Brexit backseat driver blathered about how their own pure deal would kick Juncker in the balls, May sweated the detail. She tried. And God, they say, loves a trier, even if the Tories don’t.

In management speak, May’s appointment was a classic “glass cliff”. A 15-year survey of Fortune 500 companies showed that when a firm was thriving it mainly appointed a man as CEO, while women were most likely to be chosen if a company was in peril. In part, ambitious men are reluctant to touch a toxic firm that might taint their reputation, while women are grateful for any chance. Yet also the perceived female virtues — selflessness, patience and stoicism — are seen as more useful in untangling a corporate mess.

Certainly these are Theresa May’s political skills, perhaps her only ones. By every other metric she is a terrible politician and certainly not a leader to inspire. Even more than Gordon Brown she is an overpromoted first lieutenant who has never conceived an original thought. As shallow as Cameron was, he had the charisma to project a modernising credo and, at times, the apposite phrase to make the nation feel good.

May has no lateral thinking or big-tent appeal. All her fine phrases about “fairness and opportunity” in her first Downing Street address and her social justice speech on uneducated white working-class boys, black men in prisons, young people unable to afford homes, led nowhere. Rather, she pushed on with austerity and universal credit, and authored the scandal of Windrush.

Nor can she lighten the mood with a good joke or an impromptu phrase. She has no hinterland: her supposed passion for fashion feels like a lingua franca adopted, like Cameron’s football fandom, for the purpose of voter small talk. Beyond the text before her, she is wooden, tongue-tied, excruciating when she tries to be cool or informal, dancing for trade deals. Yet she didn’t even have the self-knowledge to reject a personality cult election strategy where her uncomfortable nature was thrust squirming into the spotlight, gibbering about wheat fields and reciting “strong and stable government” on a loop.

But on Thursday she did, all things considered, look strong and stable. She is an only child — as am I — and we may be poor collaborators, worse delegators, unclubbable, cussed, solipsistic and gauche. But, boy, are we good at standing alone, not caring what the world thinks of us beyond the very few people we love. Nasa often selected only-children as astronauts because they aren’t lonely even in space. An eldest child says: “Hey, everyone, let’s do it this way!” An only child says: “I don’t care what you do, I’m doing it my way.”

By Thursday, the worst was over for May, all that tiresome persuading, listening and taking on board criticism. She’d done it her way and if people didn’t like it, well, bring it on! As she stood for three solid hours in parliament riding every blow, she reminded me of Hillary Clinton’s 11-hour interrogation by the Benghazi inquiry. Later, at her press conference, indomitable, even cracking jokes, her hunched persona was unbound: she was Mrs Thatcher baiting Labour on the day she resigned, crying: “I’m enjoying this!”

Max Hastings once wrote that in battle he’d trust Cameron over Boris Johnson: the latter would run off with all the provisions, the former would get them all out alive. In fact, both fled the field of combat in the end.

For two years Remainers applauded every EU salvo against a workable exit, yet want a second referendum even if it immolates the last tatter of social fabric. Brexiteers would rather tip Britain into a Leninist “the worse, the better” no-deal chaos than approve a fudge. Amid the ruins of our political consensus and a war-weary electorate, at least Theresa May did her best.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Galciai: 16.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Spanish
  • More here, from the Guardian, on the government's admirable plans to stop the prescribing of quack medicines.
  • And here's The Local on some specifics, acupuncture for example.
  • As we all know, Spanish is a very largely phonetic language. So, spelling is easy, yes? Well, no, it seems. School leavers and undergraduates are getting worse at it, for one reason and another. See El Páis on this here, in English. Note; Having a few years ago regularly read social media messages from British teachers, I can assure you that this problem isn't confined either to Spain or to students. But, then, English isn't a phonetic language by any stretch of the imagination.

The EU/the UK/Brexit
  • All bets are off. As, indeed, they have been for some time. Only a lunatic would claim they know what will happen now. So, my prediction is for No Brexit. Not a No-Deal Brexit, but no Brexit at all. Total victory for the EU pseudo-empire in its objective of preventing a theoretically free, sovereign nation from leaving its 'voluntary' association. Honest Brexiteers such as Richard North have always said this would happen if the UK proposals were not sensible for both parties. Which, thanks to the combination of ignorant, extremist, ambitious Brexiteers and an incompetent Prime Minister, they weren't from the outset. As I wrote yesterday, it's an opportunity lost. As to how the UK will eventually arrive at a No Brexit and stay in the EU, returning to the status quo ante, there's an awful lot of muddy water to flow under the bridge until then. And a helluva lot more pantomime. Which could well start with a Prime Ministerial resignation within 24 hours . . .
  • I say the status quo ante but, of course, for a time at least, the UK won't be the member it used to be. Which could well be a relief to the other members.
  • Sorry, I've failed to resist the temptation to cite articles. The 2 below give an insight into why Brexiteers of all stamps consider Mrs May's deal too bad to support. As do all the Remainers, of course. As I think I've said before, Mrs May has proved that you can displease all the people all the time. Perhaps the main reason for this – apart from incompetence – is that she was always a Remainer. So, if I'm right that the UK will stay as a full member of the EU because there'll be no Brexit of any kind, she should be able to look back on the last few tough years with some personal satisfaction. She will have acted, as she always insists she is doing, in the interests of the UK, as she sees them at least. But at what a price!


Matters Galician
  • Reader Sierra has advised that, while some autopistas will cease to be toll roads, some existing free highways could well go in the opposite direction. Especially in Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria. Which would make my trips to Madrid and to the ferry port of Santander very much more expensive. I have long wondered/worried when this would happen. Particularly as regards the relatively recently completed A8 along the north coast.

© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 16.11.18


1. Theresa's May Brexit plan concedes our sovereignty in a way even worse than if we stayed in the EU
: Iain Duncan Smith, MP - a former secretary of state for work and pensions

In December last year, the Prime Minister surprised us all by proposing to accept a deal with the EU in which we were committed to the Northern Ireland backstop. On top of that, the UK agreed to pay the EU £39 billion to allow the UK to have a two-year transition period after the end of the Article 50 process. Although we would have left the EU we would remain locked to the customs union and the single market, bound by all regulations and overseen by the European Court of Justice.

This, Oliver Robbins, her civil service negotiator, told her was required to unlock future trade talks. I begged the PM not to sign up to the arrangement. I said that if she did sign, that would mark the end of her negotiations because two of the critical things the EU wanted were about to be handed to them without anything in return. Sadly, she did not take my advice, and the EU, far from entering trade talks, continued to demand further concessions.

The EU knew they had us over a barrel. They only had to sit tight, say no to all our demands and we would be forced to concede. In an attempt to break the subsequent deadlock, the PM launched the Chequers plan – filled with yet more concessions – at the Cabinet, again maintaining the EU would accept this hybrid complicated sharing of the EU rule book and we would get on with trade deals. The EU, of course, refused to countenance it.

Finally this 500-page document – which on inspection looks just like all the demands the EU has made from the beginning, dressed up as an agreement – was produced. Anyone reading it can see that the EU have waited until the UK became so desperate to get a deal, they simply picked up their original document, turned to the last page and said “sign here”, and we meekly agreed.

We have allowed the EU to stop us leaving the backstop/customs union when we wish, as they have an equal say in that decision. We have the sovereign right to withdraw from the UN, Nato, even the EU, but not from this perpetual membership of the customs union. Welcome to the Hotel California.

On top of that we will be stuck suffering extensive interference from the European Court of Justice. We have conceded our sovereignty in a way we haven’t even had to do in the EU and we are paying £39 billion for the privilege.

It didn’t need to be like this. It still doesn’t. The Prime Minister should at once tell the EU this is unacceptable and it will not get through the House of Commons. She should demand that we pursue a different course, one that keeps our borders open without border checks and doesn’t require membership of the customs union. She should also tell them that the UK is content to leave without a trade deal, and trade on WTO terms – 90% of global growth will be outside the EU anyway.

Change must come one way or another – and now.
2. This ghost of a prime minister has humiliated her country and lied to its people. She must go, and go now: Allison Pearson. Daily Telegraph

Who will rid us of this terrible prime minister? If there was any lingering sympathy for Theresa May surely every last jot of it must dissolve as the details of her dastardly Draft Withdrawal Agreement start to become clear. Mrs May is much too insipid a figure to inspire hatred. It would be like hating a mop or a seagull. But I actually felt cold fury as I read just one clause which begins, “For the purposes of this Agreement all references to Member States in provisions of Union law … shall be understood as including the United Kingdom and its competent authorities, except as regards… decision-making.”

There it is in black and white, the very thing the PM assures us is not happening. The UK will be regarded by the European Union as a member state because that is what, by law, we will be, only without any power. The eunuch in the room. And the person who leads our country seriously believes this “delivers the Brexit the British people voted for”. I know. There you were thinking the British people voted not to be a member state of the EU!

It’s simply staggering. The PM who assured us in her stirring Lancaster House speech that “no deal is better than a bad deal” had the effrontery to stand outside Number 10 on Wednesday night and say, in effect, “any deal is better than no deal”.  Jacob Rees-Mogg found a typically courteous and elegant formulation for this dissembling: “What my Right Honourable Friend says and what my Right Honourable Friend does no longer match.” If you translate that from eighteenth-century Moggese, he’s calling the Prime Minister a liar. And he’s right.

 Fib after fib. At her Wednesday press conference, Mrs May told the assembled media that she had “the confidence of the Cabinet”. Except it now emerges that, at the end of the Cabinet meeting, a furiously deceived Dominic Raab told the Chief Whip he was resigning. To lose one Brexit Secretary may look like misfortune, to lose two looks like that is a job in name only only because the man actually running Brexit is a senior Remainer civil servant. All credit to Raab who refused to get on a plane to meet Michel Barnier and pose for the Neville Chamberlain Memorial Handshake.

Yet more lies. Last year, the PM told her Cabinet she had got a good deal and not to worry about that small technical business with the Northern Ireland backstop. Having deceived her own colleagues, Mrs May now hopes to fool the British people. In her statement last night, she said that her deal would end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. No, it wouldn’t. As Esther McVey said in her superb resignation letter, the people have “always been ahead of politicians on this issue and it will be no good trying to pretend to them that the deal honours the result of the referendum when it is obvious to everyone it doesn’t”.

Hear bloody hear! Give that woman Theresa May’s job. Give anyone Theresa May’s job, frankly. Boris. A random shopper in the Waitrose frozen-food aisle. Larry the cat. Lulu. Margaret Thatcher (I know she’s dead, but there’s no harm wishing). Cliff Richard. Ant’n’Dec. Literally anyone stands a greater chance of being a better leader of the Conservative Party than Theresa May.

They will say that this is not the right time for a leadership election. They will say that it’s immensely self-indulgent of the Conservatives to have a Vote of No Confidence with only four months to go until we allegedly leave the EU. Well, they’re wrong. We can’t struggle on with a ghost prime minister who has humiliated her country and lied to its people. We can’t nod along when they praise her “resilience” when what they really mean is pig-headed obstinacy and an inability to admit she’s wrong and change course. We can’t allow her to defy the single biggest vote in our history and let down the 82.4 per cent of the electorate who backed parties who said they were committed to leaving the EU at the general election.

As they prepare to cast their votes, I beg Tory MPs not to cling to nurse for fear of something worse. The something worse is already upon us. We need a new leader, one who will fight for their country. We need a chess Grandmaster to wrangle with Brussels not the runner-up in the 1973 Towcester Tiddlywinks Competition.

At her emergency press conference, far from resigning (if only), Theresa May was at her most robotically indefatigable, determined to sell her deal which has pulled off the remarkable trick of uniting people of all parties in their contempt for it. She insists she is acting in the best interests of the British people.

No, Prime Minister. To do that, you must go. And go now.  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 15.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • I'm a tad confused about Germany's/Hamburg's approach to rubbish disposal. In contrast to the policy of other countries, it seems that here you don't have to separate out plastic. And you might even be allowed to include some glass items in the garbage bags you chuck into the street bins. But possibly not those on which there's a deposit. But there are separate street bins for paper, at least.
  • Twice a week, I gaze out of my bedroom window onto a street market which stretches a long way underneath the U-train rails that run down the middle of the wide Isestrasse. There's some wonderful foodstuffs there, and even a stall selling a very wide array of spices and herbs. I fancy I'd be a regular patron, if I lived here. But not for the cheese. Or the cucumber.
  • I'd also be a regular customer of the supermarkets offering a nice selection of Asian foods and sauces. Not to mention Portuguese vinho verde at prices not much above those back home.
Matters Spanish
  • Good news for Brits. And others, I guess.
  • As I've said more than once, planning is not usually a Spanish thing. But they seem to have drastically changed their approach to their Xmas shopping. Impressive. 
  • One of the biggest negatives of La Crisis was the emigration of talented young people without employment prospects here. The government is now trying to woo them back, it says here. One wishes it luck, of course.
  • Do you find labyrinths amazing? If so, this article on Spain's best 5 is for you.
Some glaze-eyed readers might wish to pass over this section . . . 

The Brexit
  • Just in case you live in a cave, here's a few of this morning's British headlines:-
The Times: May papers over the cracks as split cabinet back Brexit deal. PM faces furious backlash. 
The Telegraph: Cabinet backs Theresa May's plan but leadership challenge could come amid Tory fury.
The Guardian: Theresa May's Brexit plan: a split cabinet, a split party and a split nation
‘Collective’ decision by ministers to press ahead – but Brexiters may back push for no-confidence vote
Politico Europe: UK Cabinet approves draft Brexit deal, Prime Minister Theresa May predicts ‘difficult days ahead.’ Theresa May’s Brexit deal: That was the easy bit.
  • And here's Richard North's final para of his post today:- It is possible to see a scenario where the UK is locked in perpetuity into a customs union with the EU. The issues relating to the single market and regulatory checks is by no means clear and, it seems, are still not fully resolved, leaving areas for future dispute. But there is ample material to support an assertion that this is Brexit in Name Only (BRINO). This is exactly the fudge that should never have been accepted by Mrs May.
  • My favourite summation: Mrs May had a weak hand and played it very badly.
  • My own view is that every sensible Brexiteer would take the view that, if this is where we were bound to end up, we should never have initiated a Brexit in the first place. Of course, one should add the rider that there were exit plans – most obviously Richard North's Flexit – which could well have avoided this outcome. But the incompetent British government ignored them. Possibly because - like its Prime Minister - it didn't really want a Brexit.
  • Mrs May said last night: It's either this best possible Brexit, a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all. If feasible, I'd go with the last of these, accepting that an opportunity has been lost and it would be sensible to accept defeat. Though this, of course, would be seen as a betrayal of those who voted in 2016 for a Brexit. But it's never going to happen as it would mean the Tory party losing power for quite possibly a generation. And one thing the party is good at is resorting to pragmatism that keeps it in power. So, I imagine Mrs May will get what she wants but won't last very much longer as party leader and Prime Minister. Because, as a Times columnist puts it: Mrs May knows with her head and her heart that this deal is worse than the one we are relinquishing. It is her fate and her legacy to leave the nation with something she knows is a bad deal. The fact that it is also just about as good as she could have got is no consolation. An ungrateful party, which simply has no idea what it wants, may punish her simply because she has finally come to a decision.

Matters Galician
  • HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this item . . . The courts have caught up with some of the folk who, over the years, have flagrantly ignored the law about building properties close to the sea. Which was not exactly a secret.
Finally . . .
  • It's not only the Spanish who are fed up with the tourist hordes. Some Dutch volk have had quite enough. But I hope they don't mind me taking a look at their village next week . . .
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 15.11.18

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 14.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • Confession: My interest in Morris Minis and Minors is partly stimulated by the fact that my first car was a Minor, bought from my mother, who'd bought it from her brother . . . 
  • Correction: It was the Israeli-Arab war of 1966 that trapped the ship taking Travellers eastwards, for 9 years in fact. I didn't think they were still being made by then, but they were. Until April 1971, in fact.
  • I'm very impressed by the number of cyclists in Germany, and even more by the facilities provided for them, and the considerate treatment they get from drivers.
  • I'm even more impressed by Hamburg's urban train system, which seems to result in a very reduced number of buses on the roads, compared with, say, London or Manchester.
  • Yesterday, I spent 4 hours at what's said to be Hamburg's number one attraction – The Miniatur Wunderland – essentially a vast model railway which you can learn about here and, on Youtube, here. I'm not surprised it gets a 96% positive rating on Tripadvisor. Nor by the fact that there are, as ever, some malcontents who rate it Terrible. BUT . . . I was lucky for this, my second visit. In the middle of November there was a slight problem with the numbers circulating but nothing as bad as it can be in summer or at weekends, I'm told. When you might have to queue/wait for 2-4 hours. It's a truly astonishing achievement, the cream on the cake being the numerous humorous scenarios that you can find if you look hard at the figures. The only real downside for me was the bloody kid monopolising the machine which churned out little bars of Lindt chocolate at the model chocolate factory.
Matters Spanish
The EU/The UK/Brexit
  • Something important might or might not have happened yesterday. And,
  • something important will happen today, when yesterday's (possible) development is considered by the British cabinet. But,
  • Most people are too exhausted by the saga to care.
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 14.11.18

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 13.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • I shopped at the Netto supermarket last night. The 'Bio' chicken I bought there cost €9 a kilo. Which compared with €26 a kilo for the 'organic' variety I saw in a rather more upmarket place last week.
  • Talking of food . . . I seem to have maligned the humble brussels sprout. Three readers have kindly informed me that, even in the UK, some folk eat them outside the Xmas festive season. Certainly they do in Spain. 
  • Talking of readers, Perry has posted some info on Morris Minors and Minis. The fotos of the estate car' model of the former – the 'Traveller ' - have reminded me of a tale my host related after I'd noted one of these near his flat:- During the Suez Canal crisis of 1957, a few hundred of these – with right hand drive - were trapped aboard a ship destined for the Far East. And there they stayed for 6 years, until the ship finally returned to Hamburg, where the cars were auctioned off. The one I saw, my host thought, was the last still running. Here's a couple of fotos of it, taken this morning:-

Matters Spanish
  • An interesting spot in Madrid.
  • I wonder in how many other European countries the courts could hand down a sentence like this one and not expect to be laughed at.
  • Well, it seems that the banks really have lost the battle over who pays the stamp duty on mortgage contracts. Stand by for raised account charges.
  • Things can only get worse in this department, as one-time (flawed) heroes are transmogrified into bastards of the first order. And de-statued to please the snowflakes who have too much thinking time on their hands. As it were.
The UK/Brexit
  • Demands for a second referendum grow by the day. Per Richard North: This is an interesting development where the only way out of the impasse is seen as a surrender to the forces of populism that supposedly got us into the mess in the first place. 
The EU
  • The article below will be of interest to those who have a historical perspective and think more widely than the difficulty of obtaining visas for themselves or Erasmus programs for their kids. In it, AEP reports on comments from leading French politicians on the need for the EU to strengthen its ability to cope with the inevitable next financial crisis. Those who think the EU is a wonderfully liberal institution which has saved us from WW3 probably shouldn't bother to read it. Specifically, the French Foreign Minister has come out of the long grass and said that Europe must become a “form of empire, like China, and the US”, willing to deploy its full economic, monetary, technological, and cultural power on the world stage to confront the two great superpowers. Admittedly, this would be “a peaceful empire, based on the rule of law”, with a level of democratic accountability, I guess, somewhere between that of the USA and those of China and Russia. If the Franco-German goal really is ever closer union ending in a supra-state-cum-benevolently-despotic empire, the French politician is surely right about what is necessary pdq. But will it happen? I have my doubts. Meanwhile, as AEP puts it: It is the first time that a top EU politician has admitted openly that the logic of European integration is imperial, rather than a hybrid treaty club of nation states. Not that this hasn't been an open secret for at least 25 years. AEP rehearses the (eurosceptics') reasons why it shouldn't happen. But these won't convince the idealists, of course, should they bother to read the article. As to what will actually happen or not, AEP's final para shines a light on the iceberg ahead of the French dream:- There is a core axiom in Berlin: Germany will not pay the bills of other member states. No German chancellor will cross that line. If not, Europhiles should logically be getting worried about another European war. But I doubt that they really are.
Finally . . .
  • My lovely neighbours – Ester and Amparo – called me last night to complain I wasn't keeping them informed about my travels. I told them to read my daily posts here, fully aware that neither of them speaks English. When I'd finished, my host asked to whom and why I'd been talking so loudly and aggressively. I explained that this is how we Spanish 'chat' to each other. I suspect he was referring to the moment when, not remotely for the first time, I had to tell Ester to shut up and let me speak.
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 12.11.18


France calls for EU 'empire' and warns of euro break-up in next crisis: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the Daily Telegraph.

France has launched a feverish campaign to shore up the euro before the next global downturn, warning that monetary union is not strong enough to withstand another crisis and faces disintegration without fiscal union.

Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, said there are just weeks left for Germany and the Dutch-led "Hanseatic League" to grasp the nettle on long-delayed reforms. “Either we get a eurozone budget or there will eventually be no euro at all,” he said. “If there was new financial and economic crisis tomorrow, the eurozone could not respond. It is really urgent that we build-up the eurozone’s defences. We have been talking for too long,” he told the Handelsblatt.

Time is running out before the EU’s make-or-break summit on the future of the euro next month. The global expansion is looking tired and fragile.

Mr Le Maire said Europe’s leaders had failed to learned the lessons of 2008 and the 2012 debt crisis. They had not completed the banking union, or broken the "bank-sovereign doom loop" with full help from the bail-out fund (ESM). Nor had they completed the capital markets union, or established a fiscal entity to bind EU economies closer together. “I am not being pessimistic, I am facing reality,” he said.

In extraordinary comments, Mr Le Maire said Europe must become a “form of empire, like China, and the US”, willing to deploy its full economic, monetary, technological, and cultural power on the world stage to confront the two great superpowers. “I am talking about a peaceful empire, based on the rule of law. I use the term to sharpen awareness that we are going into a world where power matters. Europe should no longer shrink from deploying its power,” he said.

It is the first time that a top EU politician has admitted openly that the logic of European integration is imperial, rather than a hybrid treaty club of nation states. Eurosceptics have long made this case, arguing that an imperial EU will necessarily become authoritarian. Their critique is that there is no unified people or "demos" that can plausibly form the foundation of an authentic pan-European democracy, and that the locus of accountable government must remain the nation state.

The euro ultimately requires an EU treasury, debt union, social security system, and tax authority, eviscerating the national parliaments by depriving them of their democratic lifeblood: the power of tax and spending. Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) therefore tends towards a technocrat imperial structure, akin to the medieval papacy.

A recent book by Belgian historian David Van Reybrouck said the EU had already come to resemble the interwar colonial empires of the Belgian, Dutch, British, or French, with their show-piece "councils of the people" while real power resided in a remote imperial executive. Mr Le Maire may come to regret opening this can of worms.

The French government is alarmed by the abrupt slowdown in the eurozone over the last seven months, and by signs that Italy may be slipping into recession. The darkening picture makes the budget showdown between Brussels and the insurgent Lega-Five Star alliance in Rome much more dangerous, with echoes of events before the Italian bond crisis of late 2011. Both Barclays and Citigroup say Italian GDP is heading for contraction in the fourth quarter, with ugly implications with for the country’s debt dynamics.

Incipient capital flight has pushed up risk yields on 10-year Italian bonds to 306 basis points. This erodes the capital buffers of the banks, which hold €380bn of Italian bonds. Shares of Genoa lender Carige were suspended on Monday pending a €400m recapitalisation from Italy’s bank rescue fund.

Mr Le Maire will have his hands full if Italy spins into crisis. French bank exposure to the country is 12% of France’s GDP, six times Greek exposure in 2010.  BNP Paribas holds Italian sovereign and private debt equal to 47% of its CET1 core capital, and Credit Agricole is at 29%, mostly through subsidiaries. The figure for the nationalised Franco-Belgian bank Dexia is 556%. “The risk of contagion is huge. Italy is so big that it clearly represents a systemic threat to the whole euro area. The crucial problem is that the euroze still has no lender-of-last resort,” said Eric Dor from the IESEG business school in Lille.

The European Central Bank is already committed to winding down quantitative easing. It will halt its bond purchase scheme in December, leaving Rome nakedly exposed to the markets. The ECB has soaked up the entire net debt issuance of the Italian treasury over the last two years. There may be another round of long-term loans to euro area banks (TLTROs) to cushion the blow.

France’s Emmanuel Macron has staked his presidency on a grand bargain with Germany, pledging deep reform of the French economy in exchange for an overhaul of the euro. Chancellor Angela Merkel offered him some comfort with the Franco-German Meseberg Declaration in June, agreeing to establish a “eurozone budget” to enhance competitiveness, and opening the door to an unemployment fund in acute crises (but in the form of loans, with no fiscal transfers).

Momentum has since faded and the text was in any case hedged about with caveats and conditionality. It also called for sovereign debt restructuring, a potential disaster for Italy. Lorenzo Codogno from LC Macro Advisors said this is playing with fire and could inadvertently prove the trigger for a systemic financial crisis.  Yet France is clinging to Meseberg. “It is time for Germany to decide,” said Mr Lemaire.

The French pitch is that a timid vacillating Europe is being squeezed - or devoured - by the strongmen regimes of Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.  The task is to turn the eurozone into a “sovereign economic power” able to stand up to this Hobbesian world order, and to resist Mr Trump’s extraterritorial sanctions and abuse of dollar financial hegemony. “To meet this challenge, there is no other possible way than an accord between France and Germany. All else is an illusion,” said Mr Le Maire.

Whether Germany sees it that way in the post-Merkel era is an open question. The EU centre of gravity has shifted east. Many in Berlin suspect that the real French objective is to lay hands on the German credit card.  

France has been in breach of the EU Stability Pact for most of the last decade and its debt has climbed to just under 100% of GDP. Germany has gone in the opposite direction, running budget surpluses and cutting its debt to the Maastricht limit of 60%. Sweet rhetoric cannot disguise this yawning divergence in interests.

Ashoka Mody, once German desk chief for the International Monetary Fund, said there is a core axiom in Berlin: Germany will not pay the bills of other member states. “My reading of 70 years of history is that no German chancellor will cross that line,” he said.

Monday, November 12, 2018

News from Hamburg, Germany: 12.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • It was miserablly wet weather this morning. So, not the best day for taking a ferry boat along the  river Elbe and back. But this is what my host and I did, and here - to add a bit of colour - is the ferry boat . . . 
  • We also took a look at the old tunnel under the Elbe, built over a 100 years ago but now used only by pedestrians and cyclists:-

Here's a couple of decorative features which no one would spend money on these days:-

  • At the end of this post are fotos of 5 of the 'old' minis I've banged on about, all parked within 50m of the flat I'm staying in, in the Eppendorfer Baum barrio of Hamburg. 
  • On a camino earlier this year, I developed a list of 15 criteria for the perfect public toilet. As far as I can tell, here in Germany these are usually in the 14-15 range. Not so in Spain, as I recall. But I guess it helps that the charge in the really public toilets here is 50 cents, though not for those in bars, restaurants and (most) museums. I doubt anyone would think of writing the guide to German WCs that one 'pilgrim' told me last summer she was planning for toilets along the camino. Draw your own conclusions from this. 
  • In the UK sprouts are generally a once-a-year vegetable – an accompaniment to a huge roast turkey Xmas dinner. Having seen some in a local supermarket, I guess they're a less unusual/infrequent vegetable here. It takes all sorts. Perhaps they rank as a treat for vegans.
  • Which reminds me . . . One high spot of the trip to the Baltic yesterday was a delicious herring sandwich. Another was witnessing a Ukrainian waitress responding well to the rather idiosyncratic sense of humour of my half-English, half-German host. Usually he just upsets one party or the other. Or, at least, leaves them rather confused. Well, you can't please all the people, etc. And I can usually be relied on to laugh. Or smile.
Matters Spanish
  • Under the recently defenestrated, (right-of-centre) PP government, the policy in respect of solar energy defied both belief and common sense. But the new (left-of-centre) government has returned to the prior policy of encouraging and subsidising the use of the sun. And has abolished the 'sun tax' imposed by the PP government after its sudden U-turn a few years ago. Perhaps the PSOE have fewer friends in the traditional energy sector. So has less to worry about by way of a financially adverse reaction . . . 
  • I confess to knowing very little of Lorca's works. So this Guardian article was instructive.
  1. Word of the day: Pacho/Pachá. Again new to me.
  2. If you're struggling to master Spanish – or any other language – this article from The Olive Press might just help.
Finally . . .
  • Here's some good news, I guess - A 5 minute neck scan can predict which people are at greater risk of developing dementia a decade before symptoms appear, a study has shown.
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 12.11.18

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 11.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  1. Funny to watch a football match on German TV and hear English words cropping up regularly, seemingly at random.
  2. After only 2 small glasses of beer, I noticed a red squirrel running across a city road yesterday,  I guess the dastardly North American grey squirrels which have devastated the UK's red squirrel population haven't got this far. Yet.
  3. Here's one of those old Minis I mentioned yesterday. I suspect there are many more in the city, some of them even older. In fact, I can see 2 more from my bedroom window.
  • My host has corrected me on local shops. They do close, he says. But, in contrast to Pontevedra, all of them re-open in some other guise. Usually as cafés, it seems to me.
Matters Spanish
  • This Spanish triumpth would interest me more if I liked cheese. The world is full of people who do apparently.
  • This is a story which didn't exactly surprise me. The unfortunate barrio is how cursed.
  • It seems that Extremadura has been waiting almost as long as Galicia for its AVE high-speed train. I wonder if it will ever arrive.
  • Are there really 11 reasons why the Spanish live longer than almost any others? Think Spain believes so.
  • I might well have understated, at 320,000, the number of 'pilgrims' reaching Santiago de Compostela this year. Unless you own a hotel, restaurant, bar or knick-knack shop, the really bad news is that the forecast for the Xacobeo year of 2021 is a mnimum of 500,000. I doubt I'll ever visit the city again.
  • As well as cheese, I don't do oysters. At least not these days, after an experience or two. But, if I were to eat them again, this might be the recipe to make tempt me. Except for the cucumber, with which I can't share a room, never mind an eating experience.
Matters (Un)Worldly
  • My favourite curmudgeon – Rod Liddle – has written on the subject of self-identification - stimulated by this week's madness of a Brit who insists he's a (gay) dog and a Dutchman who wants to lop 29 years off his official age. See this below. I'm now pondering my options. Incidentally, calling someone 'a gay dog' used to mean something entirely – and acceptably - different a few decades ago. In the UK at least.
Finally . . .
  • Today is Armistice Day. In the 2nd Sunday Times article below, British historian, Niall Ferguson, cites what he thinks are the several myths about WW1 that are being taught to at least British kids these days, and offers 10 points he thinks need stressing in refutation of these.
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 11.11.18


I’m identifying as a young, black, trans chihuahua, and the truth can go whistle: Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times

There is nothing that Tony McGinn, aged 30, likes more than being taken to the park and chasing sticks. While wearing his dog outfit. He loves it. He is known to his friends in Los Angeles as “Tony Bark”. He is transgender, of course, and perhaps also trans-species. He lives with his husband or (as Tony prefers to put it) “handler”, a man — I think — called Andrew. It is Andrew who takes him to the park every day. Andrew explains his role in the relationship: “I hang out and I provide him with lots of attention and tell him he is a good boy. That’s basically 90% of it.”

Yes, thank you, Andrew. It’s the other 10% that worries me, but then what you do inside your own kennel is entirely the concern of yourselves, and Jesus Christ. Worming tablets, the lot. Believing you are a doggy is a harmless enough activity, even if it is reasonably strong evidence of mental illness, to my mind. It does not impinge, unless Tony were to relieve himself copiously in the street, or rip off a toddler’s face with his teeth. It is arguably less of an impingement than pretending he is a lady (or a man — I haven’t quite got to the bottom of Tony’s psychosis). I don’t believe Tony should be locked up in the booby hatch for eternity, although I suspect he should seek psychiatric help for both of the pretences he adopts. But sooner or later someone will insist that Tony actually is a dog, and that mere tolerance and acceptance is not enough: he, or she, or it, must be empowered. We are what we believe ourselves to be, and there’s an end to it. You think I am exaggerating? I am not exaggerating.

Last week, a Dutch man called Emile Ratelband went to court in order to have his birth certificate amended. Emile is 69 but identifies as 49. His point is that the age on his birth certificate — ie, the truth — discriminates against him in many ways, such as in seeking a job or on the dating website Tinder, where he is not getting much action. Well, fair enough. A study a couple of years back showed that women stopped taking any notice of men once the men had passed the age of 55. Women don’t look at me at all any more, or if they do it’s with either disgust or pity, so I see Emile’s gripe.

Whatever verdict is delivered will be interesting. If a transgender person can insist that their gender, as reported on their birth certificate, is false, then why should someone else not be able to challenge their “given” age? We are what we believe ourselves to be. And I could make a strong case for arguing linear time is more of a social construct than gender, which can be defined very easily by the immutability of chromosomes.

And then there’s the theatre director Anthony Ekundayo Lennon. Anthony identifies as black despite, as he admits, not remotely being so. And he has, as a consequence, hoovered up plenty of grants reserved for people who actually are black — or at least, not white. And there’s Rachel McKinnon, a man who decided to become a woman at the age of 29 and is currently winning women’s cycling races across America and Canada looking like Mr T from The A-Team (except not black).

The left would argue that these are outliers, anomalies, and that they should not dissuade us from allowing people to be whatever they want to be, which is a liberating thing and rather marvellous. I don’t think so. They may be outliers at the moment, but not for long. The rapid procession of transgendered men onto women-only Labour Party shortlists suggests otherwise. And the McKinnon case presages an end to women’s sport. When you abolish truth and reality, as a consequence of wanting everybody to be happy, the whole shebang begins to unravel, the whole confected, deluded edifice. It is — as Marx once said of a rather more enduring ideology — torn apart by its own contradictions. All power to Tony, then, wagging his non-existent tail, and Emile, swiping right like billy-o, for demonstrating the absurdity of where we are now.

2. Remembrance is hollow without brutal honesty: Niall Ferguson, the Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford, The Sunday Times

The young are being taught dangerous nonsense about the Great War

To my 19-year-old son, the First World War — which ended 100 years ago today — is as remote an event as the Congress of Berlin was to me when I was 19, Lloyd George as distant a figure as Disraeli. To my generation, the First World War was not quite history. My father’s father, John Ferguson, had joined up at the age of 17 and fought on the western front as a private in the Seaforth Highlanders. He was one of more than 6m men from the United Kingdom who served. Of that number, 722,785 did not come back alive. Just under half of all those who lost their lives were aged between 16 and 24 — a fact that never fails to startle.

John Ferguson was one of the lucky ones who survived and returned. But, like more than 1.6m other servicemen, he did not come back unscarred. He was shot through the shoulder by a German sniper. He survived a gas attack, though his lungs suffered permanent damage.

My grandfather’s most vivid recollection of the war was of a German attack. As the enemy advanced, he and his comrades fixed bayonets and prepared for the order to go over the top. At the last moment, however, the command was given to another regiment. So heavy were the casualties in the ensuing engagement that my grandfather felt sure he would have died if it had been the Seaforths’ turn.

As a schoolboy, reading the poetry of Wilfred Owen, learning to shoot an antiquated rifle in our school’s Combined Cadet Force, I could readily imagine the raw fear of awaiting that order. I wonder if my son knows that sensation.

His generation is not only more distant from the war than mine. It has also been exposed to a great deal of nonsense on the subject. Here are just a few examples I have encountered in recent weeks.

1) Despite the enormous sacrifices of life and treasure, the war was worth fighting. (No, as I argued in my book The Pity of War, an unprepared Britain would probably have been better off staying out, or at least delaying its intervention.)

2) The peace of 1919 failed and was followed just 20 years later by another world war because there wasn’t enough European integration in the 1920s. We learnt our lesson after 1945 and that’s why we haven’t had a third world war. (No, we haven’t had a third world war mainly because of Nato.)

3) The peace failed because of American isolationism. (No, it failed because Woodrow Wilson’s belief that Europe’s borders could be redrawn on the basis of national “self-determination” was naive.)

4) Today, 100 years later, politics in both Europe and the United States is afflicted by the same pathologies that destabilised Europe after the First World War. (No, populism isn’t fascism.)

Let me counter with 10 points that I would like all my children to understand about what happened to their great-grandfather’s generation.

1) The war was not “for civilisation”, as claimed on John Ferguson’s Victory Medal. It was a war for predominance between the six great European empires — the British, the French and the Russian against the German, the Austrian and the Ottoman — that broke out because all their leaders miscalculated that the costs of inaction would exceed the costs of war.

2) It was not fought mainly by infantrymen going over the top. It was fought mainly with artillery. Shellfire caused 75% of casualties. The war-winning weapons were not poison gas or tanks so much as improvements in artillery tactics (the creeping barrage, aerial reconnaissance).

3) The Germans were not doomed to lose. If the French had collapsed in the first six months of the war — when 528,000 French soldiers were permanently incapacitated — it could have been 1870 or 1940. French resilience was one of the surprises of the war. Even so, by mid-1917 the French were finished as an attacking force. German submarines were sinking frightening numbers of the ships supplying Britain. With Russia consumed by the revolution, American investors saw a German victory as possible as late as the spring of 1918.

4) True, the Germans were handicapped in many ways. Their allies were weak: Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria. Their generals used methods — submarine warfare, in particular — that made American intervention likely, if not inevitable.

5) Economically, too, the German side was at a massive disadvantage. Britain and her allies had bigger empires (the population ratio was 5.3 to 1), bigger economies (3.6 to 1) and bigger budgets (2.4 to 1). Moreover, even before the US entered the war, Britain had access to Wall Street.

6) However, the Germans were formidably superior at killing (or capturing) the other side. Overall, the Central Powers killed 35% more men than they lost, and their average cost of killing an enemy soldier was roughly a third of the other side’s. The German soldiers were effective enough to win their war against Russia in 1917.

7) The Germans ultimately lost because the British Army proved more resilient than theirs. Men such as John Ferguson simply would not give up, despite all the hardships they had to endure. Was it patriotism? Did they simply believe in the official war aims? Or was it because British propaganda was so effective — and British military justice so harsh? Perhaps all of these played a part. But it also mattered that British officers were generally competent; that the average Tommy’s lot was made bearable by plentiful “plonk” and fags[cigarettes!]; that, despite high casualties, the bonds between “pals” and “mates” endured.

8) The German army finally fell apart in the summer and autumn of 1918, after it became clear that British tenacity and American intervention made a German victory impossible, and after Bolshevik ideas began to spread westwards from the eastern front. Beginning with the Battle of Amiens (August 8-11, 1918), the Germans lost the will to fight and began to surrender in droves.

9) The war was followed not by peace but by pandemonium. The dynasties toppled: Romanovs, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, Ottomans — all gone. Their great multi-ethnic empires also disintegrated. The Saxe-Coburgs survived by renaming themselves “Windsor”, but still lost the lion’s share of Ireland. Not only in Russia but all over the world, red revolution seemed unstoppable. To cap it all, an influenza pandemic struck, killing roughly four times as many people as the war had.

10) Not until the advent of a new generation of nationalist strongmen — starting with Jozef Pilsudski, Kemal Ataturk and Benito Mussolini — was it clear that belligerent nationalism was the best antidote to Leninism. Some called it fascism. However, few of the interwar dictators regarded the peace treaties drawn up by the wars’ victors as legitimate. Most of the treaties were dead letters long before war resumed in 1939.

Today, please do observe the two-minute silence, at least, in memory of all those whose lives the Great War ended prematurely. But don’t just zone out, as it’s easy enough to do. If only for 120 seconds, just think of your grandfather or great-grandfather as a boy, in a trench, mortally afraid. And ponder how he got there.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Spain: 10.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • As I've said, there are a lot of (BMW)Minis in Hamburg. Most of them are of recent vintage but there are also quite a few which look as if they come from years/decades ago. All in pristine condition. Either some company is assembling them or making good money from refurbishing old cars which really don't match modern standards but are possibly some sort of status symbol. Or madness. Or both, of course.
  • My host and I, taking a constitutional last night, were briefly puzzled by the sight of candles on the pavement(sidewalk) in front of doorways. 

And then we both guessed it was because of this.
  • There's a rather disturbing article from The Times below, headed: Far-right beliefs on the rise in Germany. And starting: More than half of Germans say they feel like strangers in their own land because of Muslim immigration. Worryingly, my (pessimistic?) host fears this understates the level of concern.
Matters Spanish
  • I'm sure this is an old friend from The Local - Stuff to eat during the winter.
  • By coincidence, 2 articles yesterday from the FT on Spain, assuming you can see them:-
  1. How Spain could improve its performance in the tech sector.
  2. The impact of the newish, far-right Vox party.
Matters USA
  • There's been more insanity from there overnight. But what's the point in repeating what we all know?
The UK/Brexit
  • Ditto.
  • Camino 'pilgrims'– or at least those who register once in Santiago de Compostela – are already way above what they were for the whole of last year. Estimates for this year are in the region of 320,000. 
  • Someone, somewhere has said that, if you want to get away from the conveyor belt of the French Way, you should do the Camino Primitivo. Maybe, but you should read my posts of April 2016 before you do - here and here. (I have to admit I just re-read these and pissed myself laughing at times. And also nearly cried at some memories. Probably not good form to say so but there you go.)
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 10.11.18


Half of Germans ‘feel like strangers in their own land’

More than half of Germans say they feel like strangers in their own land because of Muslim immigration, according to a study of the country’s rising far-right tendencies.

Researchers also found that one in nine people believes the German population is “naturally superior to other peoples” and that one in three thinks the state has been “overwhelmed by foreigners to a dangerous degree”.

“Xenophobia is becoming ever stronger and more widespread across the whole country,” said Oliver Decker, one of the directors of the University of Leipzig report.

Right-wing extremists remain a fringe group in Germany, accounting for 8.5 per cent of the population in the east and 5.4 per cent in the west, but illiberal and anti-migrant views appear to be much more widespread. The report estimated that 42 per cent of the public had “authoritarian” leanings, outnumbering the 29 per cent firmly committed to the principles of democracy.

In all, 65 per cent of Germans were judged to show pronounced signs of “authoritarian aggression”, such as the desire to shut out minorities or silence people who did not share their political opinions, and 44 per cent would like a ban on Muslims moving to Germany.

Ethnic prejudices and yearnings for a “leader who rules Germany with a strong hand for the good of the people” were most common in the former states of East Germany, which were subject to authoritarian rule and experienced relatively low levels of immigration between 1949 and 1989.

Nearly 40 per cent of east Germans agreed to some extent that “under certain circumstances, dictatorship is the best form of government for the national interest”, compared to 23 per cent in the west.

There were also some signs of a decline in far-right opinions, however. Antisemitism is as low as it has been at any point in the project’s 16-year history, and support for a right-wing dictatorship has also fallen. Most measurements of prejudice remain below the peak they hit in 2012.

The findings, published in a book called Flight into Illiberalism, are based on a survey of 1,900 people in west Germany and 500 in the east.

While East and West Germany were formally reunited in 1990, the two regions remain in many ways distinct from each other. The survey found that 30 per cent of people in the former East German states still felt that they were treated as second-class citizens.

Angela Merkel, the chancellor, has welcomed 1.6 million migrants to Germany since 2014. The influx is widely perceived to have doomed her fourth term. After suffering a drubbing in state elections last month she announced that she would step down after 18 years as chancellor in December.

Her party, the Christian Democratic Union, suffered its worst result for decades in the regional poll.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 9.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • Possibly because I'm staying in wealthy part of a rich city, but I don't see any of the boarded-up/papered-over show windows that I pass in Pontevedra. Perhaps La Crisis affected Germany less than it did Spain . . .
  • I confess to having old-fashioned architectural tastes, meaning that I'm much impressed by Hamburg's glorious, 6-storey flat blocks. Of which the contents don't come cheap, I'm told.
  • My host, having suggested I needed a haircut, took me to a place where the price would be €10. But the sign on the window informed us that: 1. This was now €16, and 2. It'd cost me double that if my hair were longer than 20cm, or 8 inches. Happily, it ain't.
Matters Spanish
  • Can you imagine a herd of sheep sitting down to discuss herd security with a pack of wolves? No, neither can I. Hence my surprise at reading this item.
  • Spanish tour operators – a little belatedly – are getting worried about a no deal Brexit. Well, planning is not much of a Spanish thing, so this was pretty inevitable. Spontaneity is highly prized here. Despite its downsides.
  • Good news for Spanish truffle eaters, of which I am not one.
  • Lenox Napier reports that, although the granting of Spanish nationality has been a very tardy business to date: The Government wants to put an end to the bottleneck in applications and plans to grant nationality to more than 300,000 people. Most, then, of the current 360,000 'unresolved cases'.
  • Spain's national prosecutor – Attorney General? – who might not be very up on comparative legal systems - is upset by coverage in the overseas media of Spain's treatment of the Catalan 'rebels'.
  • Motoring News 1: Reader Sierra advises that the speed limit on secondary roads without a 1.5m hard shoulder is already 90kph. As of next year, this won't be a factor, as all such roads will have this max. So, I haven't wasted my time being cautious.
  • Motoring News 2. The new government is carrying out plans to remove tolls from some highways – the opposite of the Portuguese government's policy, as it happens. The first one to benefit is the A1 from Burgos northwards.
Matters USA
  • The article below starts with the claim that, bad as things now are, America’s age of extremes will only get worse. And it ends with: Elections can be healing events, forcing political opponents to come together to execute the people’s expressed choices. Then there are elections that offer hope and encouragement to both sides, driving them even further apart. Only a wild optimist would think America is on the first track.
  • In between, the writer avers that: The midterms confirmed that centrism is dead, tribalism is back and identity is everything. Politicians must now adapt to survive 
  • Meanwhile, can the White House sink any lower than using a doctored video to support a blatant lie? I suspect so. Do they care, so long as their electoral base tolerates this? I suspect not.
  • And is there anything more ironic and hypocritical than Fart's people criticising the touching of young women? Again, I suspect not.
  • “You are a rude, terrible person” . . . This reminded me that one US commentator said a while ago that Fart's accusations are invariably confessions. Could well be. Transference??
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 9.11.18


America’s age of extremes will only get worse: Gerard Baker,  The Times

Mixed gains for both Trump and the Democrats point not towards compromise but a vicious struggle for supremacy

If you think the past two years in American politics have been boringly harmonious, characterised by excessive civility and an uplifting search for the common ground, you’re in for a treat.

Both political parties had hoped that the US midterm elections on Tuesday would point the country in a clear direction after two years of strife. Democrats believed they would persuade voters to reject President Trump’s agenda and methods. Republicans were seeking validation, if not of every aspect of the Trump style, then at least of the policies they argue have helped the economy to its strongest performance in a decade.

Instead, the results were a parody of modern American politics: a split decision that not only echoes the divisions in the country but also sets it up for two years of hand-to-hand combat that could make the past two seem like a golden age of courtesy.

Elections have two principal functions. They produce an institutional outcome: a government that runs things until the next election. But they also convey a message from voters: a signal about what people like and dislike about the political parties. On both counts, the conclusions point to more strife.

Democrats advanced significantly in the House of Representatives, winning a majority there for the first time since 2010. Perhaps most encouraging was winning the governor’s race in three crucial midwestern states that gave Mr Trump the presidency in 2016: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

But it’s control of the House that will have the most immediate consequences. The party can now exercise a constitutional check on Mr Trump’s ambitions and use the formidable investigative powers of Congress to make life uncomfortable for him.

Democrats were eager throughout the campaign and in the first flush of victory to downplay suggestions that the new House will be hungry for impeachment. In her victory speech, Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to be restored as Speaker of the House, didn’t mention anything about investigations and claimed that nothing could be further from her mind.

Don’t be fooled. Listen to excited Democrats behind the scenes and it’s virtually all they talk about. The new leaders of congressional committees are itching to get their considerable staffs digging into every aspect of the president’s business and political record. Jerrold Nadler, a longstanding enemy of Mr Trump’s from New York, will chair the judiciary committee, the body that will consider any impeachment recommendations. You’ll be hearing a lot from him in the next few months, and also from Richard Neal, likely new chairman of the ways and means committee, that will attempt to subpoena Mr Trump’s tax returns.

Every member of the Trump administration will be “lawyering up” as they say in Washington, facing the daily threat of demands for files, summonses for interview, backed by the sanction of federal law.

In the Senate, meanwhile, the Republicans increased their majority from 51-49 to a projected 54-46. This was a significant shift. In the last Congress the party’s majority there was so slim that the president was often dependent on two or three centrist Democrats and needed to tailor some legislative proposals to bring them along. Now the margin is more comfortable.

Republicans were also encouraged by wins in some high-profile contests. In Florida, where it seems every election is decided by a fraction of a percentage point, they upset pollsters by winning both the Senate seat and the governorship. Ted Cruz held off a fierce challenge from the Democratic superstar and media darling Beto O’Rourke in the Texas senate race.

The Senate results amount to a personal vindication for Mr Trump. He campaigned enthusiastically in key states and the result is a Republican Party both more beholden to him and more like him in its composition. Democrats will take heart that, despite the strength of the US economy, voters still expressed personal disapproval of the president in the exit poll.

It’s just possible that both sides will abjure partisanship and try to get things done. Mr Trump, who after all used to support the Democrats, may choose to work with them now on immigration, investment in infrastructure and reducing the deficit. But that requires a willingness to shoulder responsibility and to compromise. Compare that with the instant gratification and base-rousing impact of a 5am tweet.

For their part, some Democratic voices will urge caution. Moderate senators worry that impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump would only succeed in energising Republican voters and alienate the swing voters the party needs if it is to defeat him in 2020.

But the Democratic base is fired up. With a divided Congress, the chances of getting many laws passed are remote so all the political action will be on impeachment. The contest to pick the party’s 2020 presidential candidate begins now and leading contenders will come under pressure from the grass roots to talk up the president’s alleged crimes.

Nicolas Checa, managing director of McLarty Associates, a political consulting firm, says: “The better than expected Senate result gives Trump unquestionable political legitimacy among Republicans. The result in the House will embolden Democrats to pursue impeachment.”

Elections can be healing events, forcing political opponents to come together to execute the people’s expressed choices. Then there are elections that offer hope and encouragement to both sides, driving them even further apart. Only a wild optimist would think America is on the first track.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Thoughts from Hamburg, Germany: 8.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Hamburg/German
  • As I've said, all the (plentiful) museum, etc. translations into English here are excellent. I'm almost missing the amusement and irritation I experience when dealing with the Iberian equivalents. Assumed to be done by a relation of the commissioner. With access to a computer.
  • And, so far, everyone everywhere has displayed an impressive command of English. Including the café which has on its window A ruff day? Come in and relax with a coffee.
Matters Spanish
  • Think Spain tells us here that the speed limit on all secondary roads will drop from 100 to 90kph as of January. I have to admit I thought it already had. So, I now feel cheated of 10kph during several months, in my attempt to avoid my 13th motoring fine. (Just to remind you: Fines in the other 15-20 countries I've driven in – Nil).
  • Reader María rightly rails in her blog against the judicial decision to favour the banks as regards the 'stamp duty' tax on mortgage documents. And the Olive Press reports on this iniquity here. But this morning, in his Business over Tapas, Lenox Napier advises that: On Wednesday, Pedro Sánchez announced that from Thursday, and following a Government order, the banks will henceforth pay the tax on mortgages. Confused? Well, I certainly am.
  • Lenox cites an El País report that the number of British expats living in Spain has dropped by 40% since 2012. This is blamed on Brexit-inspired concern over what will happen once the UK quits the EU and on more expensive living costs due to the fall of sterling. I have to say I'm astonished that no mention is made of the Modelo 720 law on overseas assets introduced in the base year – 2012. In contrast, in the years that followed, there were several reports of tens of thousands of Brits leaving Spain out of fear of being taxed hugely on expensive UK properties.
  • Last night, I was thinking of writing today that it was a treat to be in a country where strangers are aware of my existence and take this into consideration, for example when deciding where to walk. Or shout. And then, by coincidence, I got this El Pais article from reader (and friend) Eamon in La Coruña. As I usually sleep on the (quiet) night train to Madrid, I haven't experienced anything like what's recounted therein. But my daughter, travelling on the day train, has certainly suffered something similar, if not quite as bad. And I do now recall being irritated for hours on a day train by noisy kids whose activities were ignored by their parents. As I often say, the Spanish can be exceptionally kind and noble but, by god, they can also be astonishingly impolite and inconsiderate by the standards of other cultures. And it really upsets them if you point this out, regarding themselves as a singularly polite and generous people. Which they truly are with people with whom they have a personal connection. Which, by definition, rules out strangers.
Note to reader(s): I'm perfectly aware that bad behaviour happens in other countries, specifically the UK. But this is a blog about Spain . . .

Matters USA
  • Below is a nice Times article on the 5 things learnt from the mid-term election results. Some of these are pretty mood-lowering, if not depressing.
  • Following that are: 1. An article on how the Democrats are still struggling, and 2. An Ambrose Evans Pritchard article on Fart's 'reckless' (and failing) economic gamble'. The political noose, claims AEP, is tightening around his neck. One can but hope, especially after his press conference performance last night and the disgusting lies about the CNN reporter promulgated by that awful spokeswoman immediately after it.
  1. Word of the Day: Pesado
  2. The problems of a sexist language. In this case French but the same surely applies to Spanish. (Can you believe the Twain article on German is cited here?)
© [David] Colin Davies, Hamburg: 8.11.18


1. US midterms: Five things we learnt: Ben Hoyle, The Times

1. President Trump can and will claim a victory for himself
To an unprecedented extent the president made these congressional elections an explicit referendum on his performance. “Pretend I’m on the ballot,” he told supporters at a rally in Mississippi last month. He held about two dozen rallies in the closing weeks, largely in support of Senate candidates and almost exclusively in states that he won in 2016. The candidates he backed went on to win. That gives Mr Trump ammunition to argue, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, did that the night was a “huge victory for the president”. Mr Trump himself tweeted last night: “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!”

But it could equally be seen as a pragmatic exercise in cutting his losses. By focusing on the Senate, where Republicans were heavily favoured to win for weeks, he distanced himself from the likely loss of the House of Representatives, which then came to pass. According to early exit polls two thirds of voters yesterday said they were passing judgment on Mr Trump. After Barack Obama also lost the House of Representatives and narrowly held the Senate in 2010 he faced up to what he called a “shellacking” by the voters. Mr Trump, the president who once promised his supporters that they would “get tired of winning” is not about to say anything similar.

2. The Democrats’ “blue wave” never materialised but the first steps to rebuilding have been taken.
High postal voting and turnout figures raised Democratic hopes of a liberal uprising at the ballot box but the final results suggested that voters from across the political spectrum had been strongly motivated to take part. As Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate, put it on CNN, “you can’t have a wave election when both sides are interested”. Flipping the Senate was always a remote prospect for Democrats because so few Republican seats were up for grabs and genuinely winnable. Failing to flip the House would have been a disaster for a party still recovering from the 2016 election defeat and that outcome was safely avoided.

3.The US political landscape is becoming more diverse 
More women than ever before ran for office this year, most of them Democrats and many of them first-time candidates. Last night, with results still coming in, the new Congress was on course to include a record number of female members. Jared Polis, a Democrat running in Colorado, also became the first openly gay man to be elected state governor. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old progressive who won a stunning Democratic primary victory in New York’s 14th congressional district this year, duly became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashid Tlaib of Michigan became the first Muslim women in Congress while Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, Democrats from New Mexico and Kansas, became the first Native American congresswomen.

4.The United States is becoming more not less divided
Rural voters broke decisively for Republican candidates while people in the suburbs and the cities, including some areas that picked Mr Trump for president two years ago, skewed towards Democrats. Women, particularly better educated women, swung sharply left across the country, favouring Democrats over Republicans by 20%, according to exit polls. More than half of men voted Republican.

5. Politics is set to be even more adversarial heading towards 2020

Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ leader in the House of Representatives, called for greater cross-party co-operation last night “because we have all had enough of division” but only after she had said that her party’s mission was now “restoring the constitutional checks and balances to the Trump administration” that Republicans had chosen not to apply. Mr Trump welcomed Ms Pelosi’s call for bipartisanship but did so after spending weeks hammering campaign messages on immigration and security calculated to energise his base rather than to broaden the coalition that carried him to victory in 2016.

With control of the House, Democrats are expected to ratchet up scrutiny of the Trump White House and investigate and legally challenge everything from the president’s personal tax returns to his controversial immigration, health care and environmental agenda. Impeachment is a possibility. With Republicans defending the Senate, Mr Trump can continue to appoint conservative judges and administrative nominees and has a bulwark against possible impeachment by the House as a trial would occur in the Senate.

2. The 'rainbow' Democrats still have nothing to offer America's working class – women or men: Janet Daley, The Daily Telegraph

In the end, three predictable things happened: the Democrats took control of the House, the Republicans held the Senate and Donald Trump declared a famous victory.

Will anybody tell the truth about these events? Probably not immediately, while exultation and exculpation are the order of the day. But look closely at the results and there are some disturbing historic facts that cannot be ignored indefinitely.

Left liberals are celebrating this as “the year of the woman” because a record number of female candidates have been elected to Congress. But it is really the year of what they call in the US, “suburban” women - which is to say, the educated, middle class ones.

The terrible truth is that Democrats have almost nothing to say to working class women in those blue collar states where they are more worried about putting food on the table than breaking glass ceilings. Indeed, the party appears to have nothing to say to working class voters of either gender (except “I hate you and your ignorant prejudices which stand in the way of our great march toward enlightenment.”)

This election victory in the House confirmed that the Democrats are now committed to the concept of the “rainbow coalition”: an electoral alliance of women, ethnic and social minorities and their progressive supporters. Which is to say, they have completely abandoned their traditional constituency and left them prey to the demagoguery of anyone who professes love for them and seems to take their concerns seriously.

They appear to have learnt nothing from the Hillary Clinton debacle in which a confederation of like-minded minorities poured contempt on the great disenfranchised millions who once believed that the Democrats were the party of the working man. (It is no coincidence that Trump stole Franklin Roosevelt’s term “the forgotten man”.)

But, you might argue, perhaps the time has come for politics to move away from that old class-based idea of party loyalty. That was a dangerous Marxist myth, wasn’t it? Maybe it is better to have parties that align along common interests and ideals rather than locking people into pre-ordained social position and economic categories. Yes indeed. But that can only work if the new alignments and the new messages connect with the reality of people’s lives. If you are a victim of the post-industrial apocalypse in a rust belt state, you want to believe that somebody in Washington understands your anger and does not regard your inchoate rage as despicable. If that is not forthcoming from a respectable candidate then you will turn to one who tells lies, who propagates terrifying myths and who deals in hate. The Democrats have more than their electoral prospects to consider.

There is a matter of moral responsibility here too. Speak to, and for, the angry mob - or they will turn in their desperation to something very dangerous.
3. Trump's reckless economic gamble has failed and the political noose is tightening: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Donald Trump’s economic deal with the devil has failed even in its most immediate and cynical objective. It is downhill on every front from now on.

The President debased the US public accounts with a Peronist fiscal policy of staggering irresponsibility in order to keep control of Congress - or rather to buy Congress with $1.5 trillion of future public debt might be a better description.

He lost the House anyway, and with it his chances of avoiding a blizzard of subpoenas from the Oversight and Intelligence Committees.  The Democrats won the popular vote by 7% at the absolute apogee of a Republican fiscal boom.

The sugar rush of unwarranted stimulus so late in the economic cycle is already starting to fade. The slippage is what hedge funds call the ‘second derivative’. Over the course of 2019 the Faustian Pact will progressively close in on Mr Trump, and on the credit-rating of the US Treasury.

Morgan Stanley said the stimulus will turn ineluctably into “fiscal drag” as the months pass unless there are more handouts to feed the monster.

Perhaps Speaker Nancy Pelosi will give Trump a partial reprieve of sorts. Common ground exists on spending for roads, bridges, and infrastructure. But the Democrats will keep him on a tight leash before the next election. “They are not going to give him anything to run on, any victories,” said Steve Blitz from TS Lombard.

The first ominous signs are already evident in sectors most sensitive to higher borrowing costs. The Freddie Mac rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage has risen 100 basis points to 4.83% over the last year. Home sales have dropped by 21%. Average prices have slipped 3.5%. The homebuilders’ equity index is on the cusp of a full-blown bear market.

This is remarkable given that the fiscal pedal is pushed to floor. The federal budget deficit is nearing 5% of GDP,  at a time when full employment and bulging tax revenues should restore balance. Bill Clinton had a surplus of 2.3% at the end of the 1990s expansion, a model of rectitude.

The US has never run a late-cycle deficit of this scale in peacetime. The stimulus has washed over the economy like a deluge of rain on parched soil, a flash flood that leaves only damage. “They have had a terrible bang for the buck,” said Adam Posen, chairman of the Peterson Institute.
“They are racking up debt with a low fiscal multiplier. The tax cuts have not unleashed investment and have added almost nothing to GDP on a sustained basis,” he said. What remains is an overheated economy with early signs of stagflation.

Above all, there remains the future debt claims on American taxpayers. The International Monetary Fund says America’s gross public debt will be 106% of GDP this year, 110% in 2020, and 117% in 2023, but without the huge pool of internal savings and external assets that have made it possible for Japan to defy gravity for two decades.

It was 61% as recently as 2006. The task of taming America’s runaway entitlements will be that much harder by the time Trump has finished his handiwork, perhaps impossible. This is how to ruin a great country.

It one reason why former-Fed chief Alan Greenspan calls Trump “the closest thing that America has produced to a Latin American-style populist” - the Caudillo del Norte, millionaire voice of the descamisados.

The other reason is Trump’s clientelism: how he coddles incumbent interests - coal, steel, cars, the declining industries - that stand in the way of economic progress and creative destruction.

Trump’s policies flout the cardinal Keynesian rule - “the boom, not the slump is the right time for austerity” - without achieving its stated supply-side objectives. The President claimed a year ago that his ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’ would lead to a Reaganesque investment boom and would be “rocket fuel for the US economy”.  

It has done no such thing. Capex spending by business has been falling. Non-residential investment is the slowest in two years. The ‘happy hand-over’ from fiscal fizz to a durable surge in productivity is nowhere to be seen.

The cut in corporate tax rates from 35% to 21% has instead fed stock buybacks by US companies. Why would they invest a decade into an ageing boom, and in the midst of a global trade war?

This is not a replay of Reaganomics in the 1980s. The Reagan tax cuts came earlier in the cycle when there was still an output gap. Marginal tax rates were then much higher. There was at least some plausibility to Laffer Curve claims that tax cuts would pay for themselves with higher growth. And Reagan’s rearmament at least won the Cold War. His fifteen aircraft carrier battle groups had a high strategic return on investment.

The obvious problem with cranking up stimulus today when unemployment is at a half-century low and capacity constraints abound is that the Federal Reserve must fight back with monetary tightening or let the inflation genie out of the bottle. The equilibrium interest rate - R* in central bank argot - is jumping higher.

The loose fiscal/tight money mix has widened the differential in global interest rates and pushed up the Fed’s trade-weighted dollar index by 10% since January to 128. It is just a whisker of shy of a 30-year high.

This is torment for a global financial system has never been so dependent on US dollar borrowing, with $26 trillion of offshore lending in bank loans, bonds, and equivalent derivatives (BIS estimates), and with a collective debt ratio some 40 percentage points higher than the pre-Lehman peak.

Much of the emerging market nexus is already in the grip of a credit crunch as a result. This may get worse until ‘blowback’ into the US economy finally causes the Fed to retreat.

The mechanical consequence of a US consumption boom and a soaring dollar is to suck in imports, painting the current account deficit in Gothic colours. The IMF forecasts a chasm of $652bn or 3% of GDP next year. The non-oil component is already hitting the 4% peak seen in the deficit scare twelve years ago.

Mr Posen’s fear is that the White House will hunt for scapegoats, lurching further into protectionism and tariff warfare. It is the culminating logic of Trumpism.

The Fed is now unwinding QE with bond sales of $50bn a month, both draining global dollar liquidity and adding to the supply of debt that US markets must digest. This is making life even harder for the US Treasury as it tries to cover Mr Trump’s $1 trillion deficits. Hence the jump in real 10-year Treasury yields (TIPS) to 1.23% from 0.46% in January.

Debt markets are tightening. The average borrowing cost for BBB-rated companies in the US has jumped 120 basis this year to 4.71%.  Michael Pearce from Capital Economics says US yields have already risen more for household and firms in this cycle than they did during the last four tightening cycles going back to the 1980s. This paves the way for trouble next year as fiscal largesse fades.

Trump has sucked all the short-term advantage that exists by manipulating the macro-economic levers. Henceforth it will be harder. Lakshman Achuthan from the Economic Cycle Research Institute calls its the Red Queen effect from Alice in Wonderland. “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to go somewhere else, you must run twice as fast.”

If Trump is lucky, the Fed will calibrate its tightening perfectly - a feat rarely achieved - and pull back just in time to keep an ageing and by then enfeebled expansion going into 2020.

It is just as likely that the US will slip to stall speed and tip into recession in late 2019. Either way he will face his next election in far more hostile circumstances. 

Search This Blog