Friday, May 25, 2018

The Government will now Fall

Spain is at a tense moment this Friday, with the Partido Popular in disarray following the sentencing in the Gürtel trial on Thursday - with several important ex-members of the party receiving exemplary prison terms, and the PP itself cited for improper party finance, with a 250,000€ fine. A couple of days earlier, on Monday, the ex-minister of the PP and Valencia strong-man Eduardo Zaplana was arrested and jailed without bail for another case of party corruption.
The leader of Union Podemos, Pablo Iglesias (the Media can't tear itself away from a story of Iglesias buying a large house with his wife and paying a hipoteca) has said he would support a moción de censura - a vote of confidence (reasonably common in Spanish politics) with Pedro Sánchez, the PSOE leader as candidate for president.
The PSOE has now announced that it will indeed table the debate. They would need either all of the smaller independent and regional groups to back them, or else the hard-to-fathom Ciudadanos party.
Ciudadanos, a party that is liberal yet right-wing, anti-corruption yet tied to the Partido Popular, has been mealy-mouthed so far, saying that they will support the motion only if Mariano Rajoy does not call for elections (they certainly don't like the idea of anything up to a two-year legislature under the control of Pedro Sánchez).
Mariano Rajoy could still decide to take the initiative and call for new elections, with a fresh candidate for the Partido Popular. (No, apparently not - once a moción has been tabled). Rajoy's latest reaction is to say that 'Sánchez wants to be president at any cost', despite '...the damage to Spain's stability'.
Either and any way one looks at it, the present Government has fallen in all but name (as forecast by me six weeks ago here).

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Don't Worry: the Surveys Have us Covered.


It seems that every week we have polls. The latest ones of interest are those that foresee ‘the intention to vote if elections were held now’ polls. Nationally, the latest poll gives the two new parties (we quote El País) the leadership, with C’s (Ciudadanos) with a nine point lead over UP (Union Podemos), but both of these are in front of the PP, lying in third place, and just behind them in fourth, the PSOE.
We can see how the Partido Popular are in trouble, with their endless scandals and (we return to the polls) poor leadership (‘65% of PP voters would prefer that Rajoy gave way to another candidate’), but what of Pedro Sánchez and his PSOE. Wasn’t he chosen in a massive popular swing over the Andalusian Susana Díaz only a few months ago? Indeed, the PSOE considers the latest (depressing) poll results to be ‘conspiranoia’. Good word!
Madrid also has a poll, giving the surprise result that C’s is the largest party and noting that  supposed coalition of C’s and PP would wrest control of the ruling Ahora Madrid (a local Podemos offshoot) back to the heady days of growth. The poll comes from El País.
Capitalism for the Capital, so to speak.
We have also considered the powers of the media to manipulate. The question is, are the polls – so far we have looked at Metroscopia (connected to El País) and Sigma Dos (El Mundo) – themselves manipulative?
‘The surveys that are being currently published are designed to influence rather than report on the results’. The observation comes from El Asterisk here. Polls today are presented as a form of ‘pre-truth’ says the article. ‘The credibility of the El País polls is once again in evidence’, says Podemos referring to a (what turned out to be a wildly wrong) result from two years ago. An article at El Diario called ‘Will free elections be replaced by opinion polls?’ comically notes that El Español must stand outside the doors of the head office of Ciudadanos to conduct its own survey. More seriously, they say: ‘The disparate results of the surveys of these days and their variety of objectives should raise the alarm. Marketing cannot replace politics: demoscopy cannot take the role of democracy’.
Unsure who to vote for in these trying times, the electorate may take some advice from the media and heed what they are told by the polls. It’s not just Russian bots out there helping us to decide...

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

When the Numbers Fail (but who cares anyway?)

Actually, yes, we do all look like this.

Are the European foreigners leaving... or staying? Are there more of us or less? Can you trust the official numbers handled by the Authorities as ‘Gospel’? Of course, no one knows the answers to any of these except for the last question. The National Institute of Statistics (the INE) provides an exhaustively detailed (and hopelessly wrong) number of foreign residents by adding up the information found on the town hall census (the padrón). Here is the information, by nationality, for January 2018. There are, for example, 240,934 Britons registered in Spain... and 673,017 Romanians.
A local foreign women’s group in Benitatxell is led by Margaret Hales. She tells the Levante newspaper that “I don't think the statistics fully reflect the truth. Foreign retirees are not returning to our countries. What happens is that many are reluctant to register”. She makes the point that many pensioners spend six months in Spain and the other six in their own country of origin, perhaps renting out their property while they are away. They and many others like to ‘keep under the radar’.
Then there’s Calpe. The latest data from the INE put the population at 20,804 inhabitants. In the last year, it has ‘grown’ (or perhaps ‘discovered’) another 1,213 residents. The town hall claims, however, that between 40,000 and 45,000 people live in the municipality for more than seven months a year...’.
All these numbers and these doubts mean little to the Ministry of the Interior, whose job it is to look out for the foreign residents who invest in this country – buying a house, a car and spending regular sums – generally sent from abroad – in the local shops and restaurants. Perhaps we need a little less talk of catching us on the (apparently illegal) Article 720 world-wide wealth declaration, and a little more in making our life easier – whether with a proper ID card or in resolving the issue of the British votes in May 2018’s municipal election.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Carboneras Promotion

The chief sicario, the executioner of Columbian drug-lord Pablo Escobar, was one 'Popeye'. Popeye, real name John Jairo Velásquez Vasquez, was responsible for at least 250 killings (Wiki) and spent 23 years in jail for his sins. He is now a free man.
A handful, if ever there was one.
We meet Popeye in an eccentric Facebook video which appears on the page of Pascual Díaz Hernández, the Councillor for Tourism for Carboneras, Almería (unfortunately famous for its Algarrobico Hotel which no one wants to either complete or demolish).  Popeye is promoting Carboneras as a great place to visit (and in a second video, as a great place to eat gambas).
Is all publicity good, as long as you get the name right? Don't answer that!
El Mundo notes that:  '...Shortly after uploading the videos on his social networks, the tourist councillor for Carboneras began to receive criticism from some Internet users. "It all starts because of an anonymous profile linked to the socialist party that is beginning to ask for my resignation. It's a year before the election and they're going to campaign. They are giving me grief because the video has had repercussions," says Díaz Hernández. "They are trying to tarnish my image because I am one of the most active councillors in the city council," he adds...'.
In a later interview with the Cadena Ser, the councillor was quite pleased with events.  'I didn't know anything about Popeye's past at the time I asked him to do the promotion,' (Popeye has a YouTube account here) 'but the video has been seen by 186,000 people in three days'.
Whether the right kind of tourist will choose Carboneras as a result of the promotion will soon be known, hopefully without too many disagreements...




Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The News Belongs to the Corporation that Prints it.


As we see elsewhere, the threat of new technologies or services is sometimes met head-on in Spain. The taxi drivers and the hoteliers both angry with their new competitors Uber and Airbnb, and both able to do something about it (by which we mean, talk to the legislators). Another business that is fearful of new forms of competition is the daily newspaper. This, again, thanks to technology. Why read one source (for a euro fifty), with much bulk that is inevitably left unread anyway, when you can read as many sources as you want, of things that interest you, on your computer or Smartphone, for free?
Along comes at least two major tactics from the ‘dailies’ (who are, of course, themselves large corporations). First we have the attempt to close down – or at least wound – those smaller news providers who use links in the reports (you can’t use links in the printed media, rather obviously). The Spanish ‘dailies’,  joined together into the AEDE – the Asociación de Editores de Diarios Españoles – has leaned on their friends in the Government to impose the notorious ‘Google Tax’, whose only victim so far has been Google News, an aggregator which sends readers to the original source! For the moment, this measure against other sites has been bounced by the Supreme Court, but the AEDE is keen to try again, as they don’t want the competitors drawing ever-more readers away.
But, what of ‘Fake News’? Here is The Telegraph: ‘Fake news was not a term many people used 18 months ago, but it is now seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy, free debate and the Western order’. Gracious! One should move to ban this terrible menace – maybe by creating laws! An enthusiastic initiative to do precisely this comes from the PSOE as reported in El País: ‘Spanish Socialists propose measures to curb online fake news’.
It is said that the Brexit vote, or Trump’s victory or the Independence movement in Catalonia, were all aided by fake news from Russia. Others say that on the contrary this is merely another case of fake news, or better still, ‘disinformation’. The Catalonian story of endless lies and provocations provided by fiendish Russian bots was investigated by a group called Transparency Toolkit and printed in a British parliamentary report which concluded that some of the items reported by the Spanish constitutionalist press were themselves planted by El País and others.
The report on fake news says: ‘...In some cases, there may be a temptation to use groundless allegations of fake news to support political arguments. Disinformation is not a technique unique to Russia, Venezuela, or any one country or group. It is necessary to explore how claims of fake news can themselves be used as a manipulative tactic and understand the impact this has on society’.
The Spanish national TV may also be guilty of manipulation, as the RTVE is investigated in the European Parliament this week, looking to see if ‘...the principles of objectivity, plurality and impartiality are observed’ in their news services as they must be under European law.
Fake News (we ignore joke news sites like El Jueves and El Mundo Today) may turn out to be little more than a Trojan horse, used to silence other news-sites, allowing (one can dream) for the resurgence of the traditional news-services – the daily newspapers, the major radio and TV channels. After all, corporations do not like competition. 
Business over Tapas editorial 26 April 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Right versus Left (They've got the Guns, but We've Got the Numbers)


This is merely a few subjective thoughts – but why do many of the poor support the conservative parties? It is of course understandable that those with money should see themselves as conservatives, since capital creates wealth and jobs both. But, how about those who are obliged to take on the lower-paid jobs, or those without employment, or those with low pensions or those with health issues, or those who find it hard, as the Spanish say ‘to make it to the end of the month’? Many of these people are of course left-leaning, but a surprising number of them are not.
We can partly blame the media for this, as the national TV news pumps out right-wing memes (with massive doses of Hollywood-style sports news) while news programs like Informe Semanal are so biased as to have become unwatchable. The press, too, is right-leaning as they take their orders from the corporations that own them, and accept huge amounts of ‘institutional advertising’ from the very government they are meant to control, in order to balance the books. Perhaps even the system of education itself – as we repeat what we have been taught (José Luis Sampedro with Jordi Évole here).
Who hasn’t heard of the severe problems of Venezuela (with its by now subconscious connection to Podemos)? Yet, we see and read little about Turkey or Saudi Arabia...
Perhaps it’s the same reason much of the working classes voted for Trump: perhaps (this time) some of that wealth will trickle down. Perhaps again, some of the working classes are distracted by the songs of the extreme right with their racism and their hatred (although not, I think, here in Spain).
I found that as I approach 65 years of age, with only eleven years of social security paid, I will one day (hopefully) receive a state pension. It will be ‘una pensión no contributiva de jubilación’ and will pay 369.90€ per month (call it 370€). If I had a vote, I might consider giving it to a party that offered to increase this sum...
Whatever the reasons, the latest poll shows the conservative Ciudadanos in the lead in voters’ intention, followed by the Partido Popular. Between them, they have 50%. The PSOE and Unidos Podemos (if one accepts that the PSOE is a leftist party) have 39.4% to share.
The opinion of the leader of the Izquierda Unida Alberto Garzón (the party is allied with Podemos) is that left-wing politicians need to understand their voters better. Indeed they do.
 Lenox dixit

Monday, April 16, 2018

Spain to Control Single-use Plastic

It's no secret that the sea is full of plastic. Dire warnings are found regularly on Facebook and on Sky News and indeed, in the media in general. Plastic pollution is a horrible thing, affecting both ourselves and the animals that share this planet with us. A whale was washed up on the coast in Aguilas the other day, dead, with enough plastic discovered inside it's stomach to become a serious competitor to MasterCard.
We throw our garbage out the window or out the door, in plastic bags or otherwise. We litter the campo and we leave junk on the beach. We even haul our trash to the contenador, the municipal  rubbish bin, and then leave it next to it as a sort of prize for the next person to come by.
Plastic, blowing in the wind, adorning our trees, flopping in the waves, cast aside in the ditch.
Most of this plastic is non-degradable and will be lying around somewhere for many years to come.
The plastic farms of Almería (always said to be 30,000 hectares, or 300 square kilometres of them, but more likely to be well over double this figure) use, understandably, a lot of plastic. The used, rotted stuff had always been sold to the Chinese until January this year when the trade was abruptly closed down by Beijing. What do they do with the stuff now? (Answers on a postcard).
Spain (to at least my surprise) has just bravely passed a law regarding single-use plastic. From the beginning of 2020, plastic forks and plates, cups, drinking straws and so on will neither be imported, exported or sold in Spanish territory. Plastic bags will also be controlled from that time, and will need to be biodegradable in the future.
Supermarket food wrapped in polystyrene will also be controlled.
The law was passed with the support of the PSOE, Podemos and Ciudadanos, and the Partido Popular abstaining.

 .. .. .. ..

Recycling plastic? Forget it, says an article in Público. ‘We live surrounded by adverts that tell us that we have to recycle, that it is very important to throw plastics in the yellow bin so that they can have a second life and the planet becomes a better place. What no one says is that plastics are very difficult to recycle and the small percentage that is recycled becomes a poor quality and economically uneconomical plastic. As a result, much of the plastic that we produce is simply incinerated...’.

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