Wednesday, 22 March 2023

The Motion of Confidence

The Moción de Censura – the peculiar vote of no confidence brought by Vox – was debated and voted down (to no one’s surprise) this week. Vox had brought it (their second) with the presumed hope of being able to criticise the Government at great length, as the rules insist. For the other leading parties, the tactic brought consequences. The PP (the future senior partner in a right-wing PP/Vox government) would be abstaining and suck their teeth looking faintly embarrassed, while hoping that some of the less star-struck Voxxers would perhaps consider returning to the PP fold. Due to parliamentary rules, Feijóo couldn’t speak for the PP (he isn’t a deputy), so the task fell to their acerbic (or ‘forthright’, depending on one’s point of view) spokesperson Cuca Gamarra.

The PSOE appears pleased, as it showed up the silliness of the Vox proposal – to say nothing of its candidate for president (a man practically in his nineties). Pedro Sánchez also felt that the debate would underline the two different approaches to politics in Spain, link the PP to Vox, as well as unifying the governing coalition in a common cause.

Yolanda Díaz (who will be announcing her candidacy with Sumar for the December general elections on April 2), defended the government from the Podemos/IU benches.

The show began on Tuesday with Santiago Abascal, with his usual exaggerations and fibs.

A very tired looking Tamames, for his part, neither offered a program during his lengthy opening remarks (beyond a proposal to call for fresh elections) nor answered any of the many criticisms brought against him by the other speakers.

Guy Hedgecoe, writing in The Irish Times on Sunday, described the whole sorry tale as a ‘…motion, engineered by the far-right Vox party, likely to end up being just a bizarre footnote in Spanish history...’. Indeed, even some of the Vox deputies appear embarrassed.

Last Thursday, had obtained a copy of the thirty-one page opening speech from Ramón Tamames (he’d sent it out to some of his friends) which they promptly printed in full. He had already admitted in an interview earlier this month with El País that he didn’t agree with some of the Vox doctrine. While Vox has described Sánchez as a criminal and a sociopath (sic), Tamames admitted last week that he holds the prime minister in quite high esteem.

The reaction from the far-right was the usual: it’s not a scoop, they said, but a leak made on purpose by the eccentric Tamames, who used to be (back in the 1950s) a member of the then-illegal Partido Comunista de España. He passed it to – a ‘communist, podemite, far-left daily’ – simply to further to vex Vox says Federico Jiménez Losantos, a long-time broadcaster along the line of Glenn Beck. The larger question was raised – had Santiago Abascal made a terrible miscalculation by choosing Tamames as his Champion?

We all hoped so.

The debate lasted through Tuesday and into Wednesday, including some good speeches from Gabriel Rufían (ERC) and Aitor Esteban (PNV) before the final vote.


A few bon mots to take away:

Sánchez to Abascal: “Pase lo que pase, el dictador nunca volverá a su mausoleo

Sánchez to Tamames: “No creo que esta haya sido la mejor idea que ha tenido en su vida

Yolanda Díaz to Abascal: “Solo se han dirigido a las mujeres para reprocharnos la baja fecundidad

Patxi López on the program of the PP: “Está tan clara, que está en blanca

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Women's Rights

Women’s rights is a subject which should be treated by a woman…

But, hey ho.

March 8th is a key date for women, it’s International Women’s Day and also, as 8-M, the big day in the Spanish calendar for women to take to the streets and remind us all of their value (and their numbers).

However, it’s all a question of Power. We men must hold the keys, whether with the help of a male God (and his Pope) or a male Caesar. We are after all, stronger and better fitted to hold command, and anyway, don’t we treat the women well?

This is the background to our (male) right to treat women as we wish. To oppress them at our will. We invent endless laws about their bodies, their possessions, their clothes, their sex and even their minds.

So it was a disturbing time for us when women got the vote. United, that was half the electorate right there – and the women, banded together, would no longer allow any nonsense. Throw in equal education, full working opportunities (when will women receive the same wages as men?), and equal numbers in the boardroom and the government, and we find a world where the apparently weaker, smaller half of it has the same (well, it’s getting there) rights as the menfolk.

Most of these advances are down to the women themselves, because, undivided, they can move mountains. Sometimes, they get help. From Pedro Sánchez: "This Government puts feminism and equality at the centre of all political action".

The 8-M is the time when Spanish women take to the streets, to demonstrate for their rights and to remind the more conservative males of their strength. But what happens if they can be split in some way – into two different groups, as happened in the latest demonstrations earlier this month? Specifically, the Unidas Podemos - backed Confluencia 8-M (here) and the Movimiento Feminista de Madrid – a group found favourable in the eyes of the PP.  

The rights of minority groups such as the prostitutes and the transsexuals have muddied the waters; purposely so, perhaps.

One right-wing news-site says that more than half of Spanish women don’t identify with the feminist movement. The notorious Ana Rosa Quintana from Tele5 being one of them.

Now, isn’t that a good thing for a conservative to hear?


Monday, 6 March 2023

Spain's Ferrovial to Move its Headquarters to Amsterdam

‘Last night’, says the Argentinian founder of Jazztel Martin Varsavsky, ‘I was at a business-dinner in Madrid. There were twelve of us. The other eleven were all defending Franco, while I was saying that it wasn’t just a terrible dictatorship, but that Franco kept Spain for almost four decades in the prehistory of economic, social and political advancement’.

Can you imagine the subject at a similar dinner setting in Berlin?

These are the economic elites –especially those of Madrid– whose fortune did not arise from free competition or the entrepreneurial spirit. A good part of the moneyed families got rich through their proximity to power: with monopolies, awards and contracts from the Administration. Contracts from the very same “public titty” that they go on to criticize so furiously later on.

That’s to say, contracts with taxpayer money: those same taxes that they will later try to avoid paying.

Curiously, it’s a leftie who coins the phrase: ‘a true patriot is one who pays his taxes’. And here’s Pedro Sánchez in a similar vein: ‘We seek to compete on quality not on precariousness. To do so we need fair taxation: those who have the most must pay more’.

Which brings us to Rafael de Pino, the founder of Ferrovial back in 1950 (a Nationalist engineer who married well), and more to the point, to his son Rafael del Pino Calvo Sotelo, holder of the third largest fortune in Spain.

The news is that one of the largest Spanish multinationals, Ferrovial, has decided to leave Spain. Or to be more precise, to move its registered office to the Netherlands. Ferrovial doesn't have a construction or service business there, or anything like that. Therefore, it is not known exactly why they are leaving. The group chaired by Rafael del Pino has been very unclear in explaining the reasons that has led his company to flee Spain.

One conservative source in Spain blames the commies: “The pressure against banks and energy companies; the ‘tax on the rich’ - in reality a punishment for successful professionals; the government’s fiscal and labour policy; the constant increases in the minimum wage; the instability generated by Podemos’ attempts to impose an interventionist framework similar to that of Latin American populism; and the demonisation of the creation of profits, wherever they come from and whatever their context, have not contributed to generating an attractive climate for companies”.

To say that over there in Amsterdam one will have more access to obtain financing sounds like an excuse. Ferrovial can seek financial resources anywhere in the European Union, as so many companies do, without moving their headquarters. We read that the company is known for constructing public buildings, or railways (it started out in the fifties as Renfe’s builder of choice).  The beneficial tax-system enjoyed in the Netherlands is soon coming to a close, so why move? The Spanish one, by the way varies from an average Corporate Tax of 17% for companies with over 5,000 employees, down to as little as 3.59% on profits.

One reason for the relocation could be that the Americans hold around 30% of Ferrovial shares, and considering the Biden Plan to repair the US public infrastructure, the Netherlands and Wall Street have a close working relationship.

Del Pino had been promising the PP leader Núñez Feijóo only last month that he would be working for ‘a better and more prosperous Spain’. Conversely, following the surprise announcement, Feijóo has been criticising Pedro Sánchez for his indignant reaction to the news of the Ferrovial move, calling Sánchez a ‘hooligan’ and that he should ease his level of tension against Spanish Business. Over on the other side, Ione Belarra, president of Unidas Podemos, has unkindly called Ferrovial ‘a pirate company’ and says that all the public money spent on it ‘should be returned to the Spanish taxpayers’.

“The choice is simple: either Podemos and interventionism, or companies and prosperity” says another conservative opinion.

The bottom line, as a bean-counter would say, is that the company stands to save some forty million euros in taxes by its move to Amsterdam.

Biting at Rafael del Pino’s heels, the fourth richest man in Spain is Juan Roig, the owner of Mercadona (where the price of the shopping-cart seems to be continually on the rise) with 3,400 million euros kept under the counter next to the shotgun. Standing well in front of Rafael del Pino (3,800 million) and his third position in the wealth list is Nº 2 Sandra Ortega and her dad, Nº 1 Amancio Ortega. The two of them can lay claim between them to 58,900 million euros.

But, you know, is it enough?

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

News from the Home Front

 Living in your own place is a reasonable goal to have. Many articles in the Spanish news talk about the cost of an apartment by the square metre, the shortage of decent homes on the market or the fall (or rise) in house-sales and maybe the problems with noise, location, neighbours, lack of transport and so on. Other articles – aimed more at the foreign readers – treat of similar things, but differently. We are no longer in the city looking at apartments on the seventh floor, but on the coast or the islands, wondering if there’s a decent school nearby and if some developer is going to come along next year and spoil the view. The local town hall is pleased enough to have us no doubt, but generally prefers tourism over mass foreign settlers and is more concerned about its hoteliers and local souvenir shop-owners than its foreign dog-owners. The foreigners, you see, don’t vote much and they don’t have a lobby.

Picture by Andrej Mashkovtsev

There is a third kind of property story though – and that’s about those who don’t own the property they live in. They generally can’t afford to own and they may be stuck with a lifetime mortgage or perhaps must put up with landlords who want them out (default, unpaid rents, owner wants to sell the place, or divide it into two, or put up the rent…). More cheerfully, the growing number of foreign renters includes those sensible souls who intend to buy a place… but later.

Vulture Funds – investment houses that operate solely for profit – can be a problem, putting the rents up by a hefty chunk, or failing to keep up the maintenance or even, as happened in Valencia last week, waiting until the 82 year-old-lady went out to buy something at the shop, before rushing in and changing the locks. Other owners might even use anti-okupa companies to remove tenants rather than wait for the slow process of law.

Apartments for rent can be a bit small these days, or maybe there’s just a room for rent, or may just a bunk bed in a room for rent.

Another route is to stay with your parents, or live in a caravan (or even a car), or to go and find an empty home (that could be used for squatting in). There are apparently some 3.4 million empty homes in Spain (mostly owned by the banks and, on paper at least, of value). We worry not so much about these – they are usually unfinished or without services – as about the second homes taken over, on occasion, by professional mafia groups that then pass them on to discriminating squatters with some extra cash. Owners of these may resort to the courts or perhaps the desokupa people. A home with squatters is not the same as a home with tenants who are in arrears. In their case, it might take years to eject them legally.

We could move far from the city and try our luck in an old abandoned village, far from all amenities. The hippy settlers of Fragua in Guadalajara tried this. After ten years of concentrated opposition from the regional government, plus a few of their number thrown into jail for illegal occupation, they have now thrown in the towel. So much, say the hippies, for repopulating the empty regions of Spain.

Hoping to find new places to turn into homes, even slightly peculiar ones, some cities are now allowing those empty or abandoned ground-floor business spaces built and bricked up below the apartment blocks to be turned into homes. Madrid is already allowing this and now Galicia is following suit.

Another issue for home owners and renters alike is mass-tourism. Too many tourists waving their cameras, attracting the pickpockets, the tour guides, tuk tuks, the wally-trolleys and the souvenir-shoppe people. They also attract short-term rentals (as Airbnb) which are far more profitable than regularly leased apartments. In short, the centre of Madrid or Barcelona can be a dreadful place to live ‘as they are turned practically into theme parks’ (it’s true of some resorts as well, such as Mojácar which only took down its Ferrero Rocher Christmas Decorations on Andalucía Day this Wednesday February 28th).

In all, maybe the hippies were on the right path… they just needed shorter hair.  

Saturday, 18 February 2023

The Deceivers

 There’s no doubt but that we are all manipulated in some way or another. The media is known for it since it will strive to report the news (and opinions) that coincide with those of the reader, listener or viewer. Conservatives read El Mundo, the ABC and La Razón and watch Tele5 and Ana Rosa Quintana; conspiracy conservatives read OKDiario and Libertad Digital (and probably watch the Catholic Trece TV); socialists read El País (with a certain disappointment as it moves slowly rightwards) or El Huff Post and get their news from the RTVE’s Telediario; while the lefties devour, Público and ctxt. There’s not much TV for them, but there’s always Miguel Charisteas on YouTube (who’s much more fun anyway).

But what happens when we didn’t know that we were being coerced, or fiddled with, or fooled?

There’s a Barcelona firm called Eliminalia that meddles with Google and its search engine. We read that ‘…over several years, the company deployed unethical or deceptive methods to scrub unwanted and damaging content from the internet’. Thank goodness for Wikipedia, hey.

We have regular stories of lawfare in Spain – the conservative-leaning judiciary usually either attacking or manipulating Podemos and its leaders through the courts. Stories which are, naturally, bled to the Press.

Then there’s the far-right Alvise Pérez who plants any number of bulos in the social media. I ran one of his the other day on Facebook saying, ‘this is obviously bogus’, and got a warning from Mr Zuck himself to take it down as it was fake news and I would have my modest readership whittled down if I didn’t. At least he didn’t send me to Facebook Jail like he did to Mr Trump (who’s now out again I see).  

Facebook, which runs adverts for free camper-vans with just a small scratch, genuine leather boots at $9.95, closing-down sale of cushions at 90% off and tee-shirt photos with a pithy text superimposed.

Oh, and pretty girls who admire my posts and just want to be friends.

Talking of manipulation.

More seriously, the news has broken of a furtive Israeli company that professionally plants fake news and has been active in influencing people in various general elections. We read that they claim to have ‘completed 33 presidential-level campaigns, 27 of which were successful’. The article at The Economic Times also notes that: ‘…It adds to a growing body of evidence that shadowy private firms across the world are profiting from invasive hacking tools and the power of social media platforms to manipulate public opinion…’.

Artificial Intelligence is now taking over the job – for better or worse – of Photoshop. Love means hate, as George Orwell might have explained if he lived today.

We also read uneasily about Russian bots: multiple troll-accounts echoing each other with falsehoods and propaganda.

All of which begs the question (and, after all, this is what all this handling is ultimately about): are you sure you are a free agent when you go to the polling station?  

Sunday, 12 February 2023

The Bank Always Wins

What makes you think you are the only one bearing a heavy load?

Although things are not going so badly in Spain for the workers – with the minimum wage set to rise to 1.080€ a month – and for the pensioners with decent rises too; it’s also true that the cost of living is going up, the prime lending rate is suddenly climbing and the ongoing rise in employment has faltered after the Christmas bonanza, with 70,744 more people currently out of work (while remaining at a fifteen year low).

However, one can only wonder at the banks. The reported profits from these institutions is not only obscene, but is causing uneasiness across the country.

The Banco de Santander reports profits for 2022 of 9,605 million euros.

BBVA reports profits for 2022 of 6,420 million euros.

Caixabank reports profits for 2022 of 3,145 million euros.

The Banco de Sabadell reports profits for 2022 of 859 million euros.

Indeed, the top six banks (including Unicaja and Bankinter) reported profits of 20,850 million euros in 2022 (although, of course, much of this comes from foreign business).

The Spanish bankers are among the highest paid in Europe (with 221 of them earning over a million euros a year) says the European Banking Authority – as noted by Pedro Sánchez as he asked for some show of solidarity in a recent speech.

Yolanda Díaz, Spain's Deputy Prime Minister and Labour Minister, quickly called for a freeze on variable mortgage rates following the news. She says ‘While the rise in the Euribor will make the average mortgage more expensive by €250 per month, the crisis cannot be an excuse to earn more. We must freeze mortgages and moderate benefits’.  

The president of the Banco de Santander, who goes by the unfortunate name of Ana Botín (Botín means loot or swag in English), answered by saying that her bank wouldn’t be able to offer mortgages to the poor if controls were put in place by the Government.

Of course, there aren’t that many branches to be found these days to pick up a mortgage, since 2008, around 27,000 branches have been closed down (evidently with some major redundancies).

As someone says - it’s best not to think about the banks: best that is, for your mental health.

Monday, 30 January 2023

The Tragedy in Algeciras

Racism isn’t a subject I wanted to get into here (beyond a few jokes at the expense of the Brexiteers and their comic view of foreigners), but a recent, terrible, event in Algeciras has brought the subject up once again in political conversation and, inevitably, social media, where we all tend to say (or write in under 280 letters) – more than we should.

Especially if we sign it with un nick (an alias).

A Moroccan left his home the other evening, armed with a machete, and killed a local priest. There’s a video of his victory strut (available on Twitter) and, encouraged, he went off and wounded a second priest before being arrested.

His photo in the media, taken at the police station, shows somebody who is clearly pleased with himself.

The reaction was perhaps obvious, as we’ve all seen it before.

The local Muslim community showed horror at the tragedy and they acquitted themselves, as they always do, with sympathy, kindness and honour. “This is very sad, and it tarnishes our image. Our holy book says that no one can kill. For us God gives life and no one has the right to take it away. That is what Islam says, Islam is peace. The boy who has done this does not know Islam, he is yet another victim, the culprits are the leaders (jihadists) who brainwash people like him," a 36-year-old Moroccan who has lived in Algeciras for decades told reporters.

Elsewhere, we read that the Muslim community in Algeciras are receiving threats ‘we are being warned that the guns are loaded and ready’.

There are some 875,000 Moroccans living legally in Spain, plus many from other Muslim nations. One family from Casablanca lives next to me in Almería, and I am close to them. On the other side, we have several young Africans who have crossed the Mediterranean in dangerous conditions. One of them lost a brother on such a crossing. They are friendly, too.

Maybe, of course, for them as much as for me, it’s hard being a racist when you’re a foreigner. 

No doubt the Secret Police keep an eye on all of us foreigners, which makes me think – didn’t I used to be a European?

And talking of the police, a chief inspector from Valencia, recently sacked for racist comments, is now patrolling the churches there with (a gang of ruffians) a group of concerned citizens.

But then, others also keep an eye on us, especially if we can’t vote. Take the Vox party and its followers. ‘You open the doors, and in they come’ says Santiago Abascal bitterly.

The PP’s Núñez Feijóo meanwhile was unable to express himself adequately after claiming that ‘We Christians for centuries have never killed for our religion’.

We read that ‘…Although the atrocity met with swift condemnation and revulsion from Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, the reactions of the leaders of the conservative People’s party (PP) and the far-right Vox party have been denounced by members of the country’s Socialist-led coalition government and by migrant and anti-racism NGOs…’

ECD runs an opinion piece: ‘…You don't have to be a Vox sympathizer to recognize that our first concern should be the anti-Christian hatred reflected in this attack and others of the same type that are taking place in Europe. Before the imaginary victims of possible Islamophobia, we should think of the real victims of a deadly Islamist ideology…’

And that silly fellow in the police station. Smiling.