Saturday, 25 June 2022

Adiós Facebook. Hello Vida.

 I've given up with Facebook.

This time, they jailed me for another month after putting a frivolous comment on a Spectrum post about the new proposal to double-pack passengers on a flight.

I wrote: 'Why not knock them unconscious and stack them in the hold'.  Pathetic perhaps, but hardly revolutionary.

The Thought Police were quick on the uptake and gave me another month to cool my heels (I had just got out that day from an earlier and equally stupid sentence). 

Facebook - where one isn't even allowed the luxury of a kangaroo court. Where the power to close one down is evidently in the hands of faceless gnomes.

Facebook takes my money for promoting a site, Business over Tapas, that I can't even visit.

Indeed, I'm currently barred from even putting a 'like' on a post, and friends don't know I've been removed from all activity because I can't tell them.

So, Fuck Facebook.

It's a pity because, having been in desktop-publishing most of my life, I enjoyed seeing and posting on Facebook. I no doubt spent far too much time looking at it on the cell-phone.

Me and Donald Trump both! 

Still, one must move on.

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Juan Carlos Drops By


It’s a subject that one would prefer to shy away from, but the Old King, Juan Carlos I of España, was briefly in his erstwhile kingdom over the past weekend. He had flown in to Vigo airport in a horribly expensive chartered jet. It was his first visit to Spain in 21 months.

He was generally given a rapturous welcome (the local daily gave him the first nine pages), and certainly so by the good folk of Sanxenxo (Pontevedra) where he went to the Club Náutico to join the regatta for the weekend. One fondly imagines that he ate mountains of caviar and drank the best champagne, but no one seems to think that such behaviour, far removed from the experience of most of his ex-subjects, was in any way inappropriate for the occasion.

And, after all, he had been in exile in Abu Dhabi for a couple of years, no doubt quietly drinking tea, weeding his garden and reading favoured bits from The Old Testament.

The journalists finally caught up with the Emeritus, and as he was setting off to Madrid on Sunday one of them thrust a microphone under the Royal nose and asked Juan Carlos what explanations he would be giving to his son. ‘About what?’ said the ex-king, as he wound up the window with a laugh.

On Monday, attention moved to the Royal Palace for what must have been a slightly frosty interview with his son – the first time they had been together in two years – followed by a luncheon (his wife Queen Sofía, just back from Miami, has tested positive for Covid and regretfully missed the meal, while Queen Letitia also decided against joining the family reunion) and then a trip to the airport with one small overnight bag (just kidding).

No press release has been issued about what went on behind the closed palace doors.

How the brief visit played with the population is down to which news-source one prefers – with everything from a clutch of flag-waving Spaniards outside the Royal Palace shouting ‘¡Viva el rey!’ on the one hand; to Alberto Garzón, the truculent leader of the Izquierda Unida, telling jounalists that ‘everyone in Spain knows he’s a crook’.

The New York Times is quoted in the Spanish media as making the point that Juan Carlos’ actions are certainly complicating the reign of Felipe VI.

Then there’s the suggestion that the Emeritus will soon be returning to Spain for another refreshing dalliance.

But, let us leave the last word with El Gran Wyoming, who has written a song to celebrate the fleeting Royal Visit.

Monday, 9 May 2022

The Andalusian Elections: What to Expect

The Andalusian elections are coming around, a little earlier than anticipated, to cash in on the rise in support for the Partido Popular after its latest defenestration – as the penny finally dropped that the party leader Pablo Casado was a liability while the new leader, the unpronounceable Alberto Núñez Feijóo, was a far surer bet.

The Junta de Andalucia, the regional government based firmly in Seville, is led by the capable Juanma Moreno, who currently rules the region with the support of Ciudadanos (and the blessing of Vox). He is looked on as a moderate conservative. Before Juanma won the election in December 2018, the region had been run by the PSOE-A for forty years, and corruption, nepotism, and the other sins of government were much in evidence, indeed, two of the three socialist presidents – Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán – are now awaiting confirmation of their sentences for a slew of misdeeds, led by the ERE Inquiry.

Facing Juanma Moreno PP – the certain winner short of a surprise – we find the new and improved PSOE-A led by the ex-mayor of Seville, Juan Espadas, who seems a decent sort (although, as the regional minister for housing from 2010 to 2013, he may be remembered without pleasure by those who suffered with ‘illegal properties’). Whether he is capable of bringing back home the vote is probably unlikely. The reason is that many ordinary socialists have switched either into the Podemos fraternity, or, in Andalucía, into the magic of the Vox party, which provides a type of politics which always looks good to those at the bottom: racism, flag-waving and cant.

Thus today, Vox can count on 20% of the vote. Their candidate is Mercedes Olona who is – as Wiki says – ‘known for her virulent criticism of the government of Pedro Sánchez, accusing it of "genocide" for its management of the Covid-19 pandemic or of wanting to impose the Venezuelan "chavist model" in Spain. She favours the establishment of a government of "national salvation" involving the army. She is opposed to laws on LGBT or gender violence’. A handful indeed.

The Ciudadanos party are without doubt washed up, and their 21 seats will likely be reduced to one or maybe two. Juan Marín, the capable regional minister for tourism, is their candidate.

The other contender is inelegantly named Por Andalucía: the mishmash of Izquierda Unida, Más País, Podemos and other minnows. While the lefties eventually agreed on a coordinated candidature, to be headed up by the IU politician Inmaculada Nieto, the papers from Podemos were delivered ‘a few minutes late’ (sic) to the electoral commission and there is now doubt as to whether the Podemos contingent can legally stand in the coalition or must go it alone.

The outcome for these elections on June 19th (where the 710,000 or so foreign residents of course may not vote) will likely leave the PP in the lead with somewhere around 50 seats and the PSOE-A with 32. Vox would be third with 17 and the Por Andalucía lefties with 10.

With a count of 55 needed to reach a majority, the PP will likely have to treat with Vox this time around. What will be Vox’ price?

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Who Will Watch the Watchers?

 ‘The Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, announced this Monday from the Moncloa, (despite it being a public holiday in Madrid), that the mobile phones of the President of the Government Pedro Sánchez and of the Minister of Defence Margarita Robles have been infected by the Pegasus program…’ La Vanguardia has the story. El Huff Post is quite excitable: ‘it is the worst case of spying during Spain’s democracy’.

The phone-spying in these cases occurred last summer. This type of phone-intrusion is not just ‘listening in’, but rather, the entire unit becomes open to inspection: photos, Whatsapp, Gmail, SMS and so on…

Did it happen, and if so, have we been told by the CNI intelligence agency just now of something occurring last year to deflect attention (or even blame) from the Catalonian spy-issue? Conspiracy theories abound for the time being, as the Audiencia Nacional (wiki) investigates.

It also appears that anything up to 1,400 phones may have been compromised in Spain.

Indeed, the system could likely be operating all over Europe, as an inquiry begins in the European Parliament into the use of this illegal software.

What was happening last year as the Spanish President’s phone was being examined? During the May and June 2021 break-ins, the Moroccan issue over Ceuta and Melilla was much in the public eye – and Morocco, Bless it, is very friendly with Israel.

So, who else might be in line for spying on the President? The secret service, allied in some way with those of a conservative inclination? The Americans, allied through Israel with the Moroccans? The Russians (flavour of the month)? The fellow upstairs who is always on his computer?

Maybe it’s all just a trick to deflect the inquiry away from the Catalonian phone-taps?

Which brings us to Catalan News here: ‘The University of Toronto-based tech crime research group Citizen Lab is investigating whether another 150 people could have also been targeted with Pegasus spyware in the wake of the Catalangate revelations, the online newspaper El Confidencial reported on Saturday. Pegasus spyware allows people to control phones remotely by gaining access to a device's memory and activating cameras and microphones…’

As Margarita Robles the Minister of Defence (the minister in charge of the secret service, the CNI) was herself allegedly spied upon, one again questions who is responsible, and who is in charge. The CNI has the Pegasus spy-ware – they have admitted as much – and, well, it would seem likely that they would use it, to Protect the State, even from itself.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

The Invisible Tribe

In the past I have often pointed out the difference (and benefit) to Spanish society between foreign settlers and foreign tourists. While the settlers are cordially ignored by the authorities (except during the tax season), foreign tourism receives enormous media attention, massive investment, endless promotions both at home and abroad, heavy institutional advertising and even a dedicated government ministry along with its regional equivalents. In several communities and resorts, the councillor for tourism is the second most visible politician in the government.

But then, as Spain basks in the huge amount of money brought here by tourism (forgetting that a sizable chunk of this stays in the country of origin to pay agencies, airlines, insurers and so on), along comes something to put the cork in – maybe a pandemic like the one that has assailed the industry for the last two years.

If visitor numbers had dropped by 75% in 2021 over 2019 (the last halcyon year for tourism) the number of foreign residents either stayed the same (they couldn’t sell-up and leave, what with one thing or another) or even rose in numbers.

That’s of course not including those few who dared the odds and actually took out Spanish nationality.

There are currently over six million foreigners resident in Spain at the present time – up from 4,850,000 recorded at the beginning of 2019. That’s ten per cent of everyone. Some of them are retired, some of them are living from income from abroad, some of them working and some of them studying. Some of them here illegally. Some without documents. Some of them sending their money home to their families, as they should.

While many of the six million are immigrant workers, the largest collectives being Romanian, Moroccan and Colombian, the fourth largest group of foreigners currently living in Spain are the British at precisely 282,124 souls.

Maybe. That's the figure from the padrón - those who are registered in the town halls across Spain. Other painstakingly accurate figures for the Brits are quite different. The Government claims 407,628 Brits living in Spain. Statista reckons on 313,975 and the ABC newspaper goes with 290,372.

All good for December 31st 2021.

Why are the figures so different (and so painfully acquired)? We imagine teams of dedicated beancounters adding up numbers each time they go to the market, the expat bar or the dog pound. And then, to show they weren't making it up, they arrive at those ridiculously exact figures before locking their desks are rushing out for a coffee.

There are other official government sites available, but the browser found a ‘potential security threat and did not continue to’. So, we shall remain blissfully ignorant of the information to be found on that no doubt highly useful page.

Then we have headline from  a silly English-language newspaper from last October which claimed that British expats are said to be leaving Spain "in droves"; while, conversely: the property site Idealista was posting the opposite: ‘The Brits bought 7,560 homes in the second half of 2021 – the largest group of foreign buyers’, they said.

With all the confusion, the authorities will understandably react according to the figures to hand (once they’ve successfully looked up the phrase ‘in droves’ in the dictionary), without worrying if they are correct; or maybe just go out for another coffee instead. Of course, looking out of the window in an office in Madrid, one won't see many Northern European residents. They tend to live in a wash of small pueblos along the coast and on the islands. Even then you probably won't notice them - or confuse them with tourists - unless you happen to be trying to sell something to the director of the local medical centre.

In all, nearly 64,000 homes were bought by foreigners between July and December last year. And that’s good money brought here almost exclusively from outside Spain. 

So we come back to our original doubt - why does Spain chase the foreign tourist and ignore the foreign resident?

Rather than try and figure out the number of foreign residents who are retired or live from funds from abroad (including a clutch of wealthy Americans, some rich Venezuelans, a few idle Chinese and a sprinkle of superannuated New Zealanders), but not Tommy who works at the campsite, we can only choose a wildly inaccurate number – say 500,000 – to contrast with the tourists, whose statistics thanks to the enormous machine dedicated to surveying them we know down to the last digit.

Figures suggest that the average age of this sub-group of half a million – that’s to say, those who live comfortably in Spain without employment – is around 61 years old, against tourists who are (I’m diving through the INE records) maybe 20 years younger.

Then of course, residents often take trips within Spain – not to all-inclusive hotels on the beach, full of fellow-Brits or Europeans, but to more expensive destinations, such as the Parador hotel chain or to fancy restaurants, or to areas away from the sol y playa; which makes them, in the eyes of the Spanish authorities (if only briefly), tourists.

So, if the money spent by just the wealthier foreign settlers – 500,000 multiplied by a year’s worth of living – is contrasted by the amount spent by the tourists, then the residents are clearly a group to treasure. At 20,000€ a year (my guess, and we shall ignore the major investment of buying both a 250,000€ house and a car) that’s 10,000,000,000€ per year spent by the higher end of the resident foreigners in Spain. The average visitor, here for five days rather than 365, is going to be worth a lot less.

But you won’t find any official agency or policy that promotes foreign home-buyers investing in Spain!

Tourists, then, are described as anyone foreign who comes to Spain (even if they are taking an onwards flight to somewhere else and never even leave the airport), plus all the people on all the cruise ships – regardless of if they disembark for a two-hour stroll around Málaga harbour or not – plus all the people who hop over to Spain every weekend (add ’em all together José), but not the ones who drove across the frontier or who slept in the guest room last night or on the sofa.

Then we have those non-EU citizens (now including a large number of Brits) who own homes here are but aren’t allowed to stay for more than 90 in any 180 day period. What are they exactly – residents, home-owners, tourists? No one knows or seems to care – except of course for the affronted local businesses.

Following the pandemic, we now have a terrible war and next up perhaps, a tourist bombing, or an earthquake, or something poisonous in the water. Maybe Portugal will drop its prices or Greece will give free ouzo to visitors. Tourists are just fine, they leave money and go away with a sunburn and a hangover. But they are finicky, and without any obligation or an emotional link to return.

But the residents will stay. They have an investment in Spain: their property.

Why can’t the authorities see this? There is so much more opportunity in this field.


Monday, 4 April 2022

Feijóo, the Conservative Tonic


The Partido Popular now has a new leader. This, following the party congress in Seville over the weekend, is the hard to pronounce (and spell) Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the erstwhile President of Galicia. 

The north-west region of Galicia has sent to Madrid a number of leaders over the years, notably both General Franco and Mariano Rajoy, plus another seven presidents of Spain since 1900 (here).

One of them, Gabino Bugallal, only lasted for five days in power back in 1921 says Wiki.  

Winners must have losers, and in this area we have the previous leader of the party Pablo Casado, who has announced that, like Albert Rivera (another Young Turk over at Ciudadanos) before him, he is to leave politics.

A second loser was the person who engineered the departure of Casado, the flamboyant President of Madrid Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who is currently flailing about trying to distance herself from any accusations of collusion with her brother over some allegedly juicy commissions. No doubt it will all blow over, once she accepts Feijóo’s leadership.

Besides the satisfaction no doubt felt in Galicia, Andalucía also has cause for celebration, as their politicians Elías Bendodo and Juan Bravo join the national team as PP party coordinator and shadow tax councillor respectively.

Feijóo, we read, will offer supporters a party that charts its own course without cultural wars, "children's games" or empty patriotism.

Will Feijóo’s opposition be more effective than that of the callow self-serving ‘against everything’ Pablo Casado, who spent more time trying to discredit Spain in Brussels or vacuously insulting the Government of Pedro Sánchez (YouTube: ‘When the f**k are you going to do something?’) than in trying to offer any solutions to the difficult times of the past two years?

As a right-wing commentary notes, Feijóo will offer the hand of friendship and collaboration to Sánchez, so that he won’t need the support any longer of communists, Catalonian independents or Basque pro-terrorists to govern (I said it was right-wing). The advantage of this is to bring the PP back into centre-country, to agree on those points which can be found to exist in common with the socialists, to provide some much-needed stability at home and at the same time to perhaps isolate or at least slow down the ascent of the Voxxers.