Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Democratic System

Democracy is a strange animal. People, sometimes hopelessly ill-informed, are asked to vote every now and again (but not too often). They could easily vote on every initiative with the power of the Internet, but that would clearly not work. For one thing, Capital Punishment would be back on the books in record time! So, the powers that be, in their wisdom, are careful to limit the slightly unpredictable act of voting, and putting at risk the jobs, livelihood and power of a deserving set of public servants (or ‘fatheads’, you choose). To do this, there is manipulation, fake news, ‘Russian’ bots, lies, distractions, calls to patriotism, racism and, in many cases, the withdrawal of the public’s most basic right – to participate.
From El Confidencial comes an essay on some of the tricks:
‘ the 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine, a large number of voters went to the polls in the hope of overthrowing President Viktor Yanukovych. Upon arrival at the polling stations, opposition supporters were given ballots and pens to mark the appropriate box. They then went home with the peace of mind that they had done their democratic duty. But four minutes later, the ballots were blank. The pens they had been given had ink that disappeared, so their votes were null and void.
The Ukraine anecdote is not an isolated case. In the 1998 St. Petersburg mayoral elections, the government sought to neutralize an opposition figure whose popularity was worrying. His name was Oleg Sergeyev. To confuse the electorate, they found both a pensioner and a tram driver who were also called Oleg Sergeyev. There were no photographs on the ballots, so citizens did not know who the "real" one was. With so much of the vote split, all three Olegs ended up losing...’.
The Brexit case is also a tonic. First, we know that the Brexiteers spent vastly over budget, we also know of hugely wealthy people spending millions in support of the proposal, we are familiar with Cambridge Analytica and its tactics and we also aware of the political lies and manipulations (the NHS bus for example) during the campaign. Furthermore, we know that a large number of Britons, those who would most be affected by a successful Brexit, were either not allowed (‘the fifteen year rule’) or not able, due to various considerations, to vote at all.
In the USA, ex-felons are generally not allowed to vote, neither those currently in jail. An article in The New York Times quotes an estimate that ‘...6.1 million Americans had been barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws...’ adding that ‘...experts say that disparities in sentencing can make felony voting laws inherently discriminatory against minorities and people with low incomes...’. In the UK, prisoners can’t vote (The Guardian here), in the rest of the EU and certainly Spain, they generally can (El Mundo here).
In Catalonia, the *banned* ballot boxes and papers of last October’s independence referendum were smuggled in to the 2,315 polling stations by local people (El País here and BBC News here). That’s some dedication!
Things at a local level, where one might expect a level playing field, are just as bad.
In our local elections here in Spain (May 26th next year, put a note in your diary), besides Spaniards registered on the local padrón and over 18 years of age, most foreign nationals can vote and some can even appear on a political  papeleta, a list. Other foreign nationals can’t (and this may well include the British as April 1st is – appropriately – the first day of a new reality following on from the Brexit).  But even if you can vote in village life, the ‘Families’ will control how you and your cousins will cast your lot. The same candidates may buy votes (particularly from Eastern Europeans on the padrón) for a few hundred euros each and an overseen postal vote (Mojácar famously went from 1% in the national elections to over 18% in the 2011 local elections). Remember, in local elections, the voters generally know the candidates and rarely choose 'policy' or even party over friendship and accommodation. 
Lastly, and returning to the USA, Truthout has a title to worry about: ‘You Know Election Systems are in trouble when it takes an 11-year-old ten minutes to Change the Results’. Mind you, she had a laptop (and a lollipop).
Today, there are more elections than ever before, but, paradoxically, the world is becoming increasingly undemocratic. After all, there’s not much point in calling an election unless you expect to win, and now there are all sorts of fresh ways to help you.

Friday, 17 August 2018

More Parking Spaces? Great!

An excerpt from the regional daily Ideal:
'The Diputación de Almería (ie, the 'county council') and the Town Council of Mojácar are finalizing the details of the work that will transform the main road artery of the town, the Avenida de Paris (the narrow bit under and past the Mirador). The project to widen this road is in the process of being awarded and, once the tourist season is over, work will begin on a project that will improve the lives of residents and visitors to Mojácar, one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, according to sources at the Provincial Institution. This action, which has a budget of 180,000 euros, will secure and stabilize the masonry wall that supports the street, as well as provide pavement and parking on the right bank of this street as it passes under the Mirador...'. Lovely stuff.
The street in question will be widened to allow as many as maybe six or seven extra parking spaces (no doubt to be occupied by town hall staffers), and will there be shops on the bottom floor of the future town hall building - the three-storey edifice which is the base of the Mirador - the viewpoint from the main square above? Time will tell.
The top of the building, the marble viewpoint itself, has a box on the right forefront. This is the head of the lift which will become an attractive feature of the ayuntamiento. Will it be built a little higher, we wonder?
Anyway, as long as 'our lives are improved', it will all be all right in the end.

Thursday, 16 August 2018


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Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Immigrants will Bring Back the Far Right

All these immigrants washing ashore, hiding in the glove-box over on the ferry or climbing over the high yet un-electrified fence into Spain’s North African city-states. They are hungry in the Sub-Sahara and they are looking for a better life. Many of them will end up with jobs that no European will do – from working for a pittance in the plastic farms of Almería to importuning irritated tourists on the beach who already have a pair of sun glasses, thank you.
So far this year, says The Guardian, 27,600 have arrived illegally in Spain (at least, that’s the number of those who were caught).  

As we accept their arrival, or admit that they should have a chance to seek a better life, we play into the hands of the Hard-Right, who joyfully commission articles about violence, rape and destruction at the hands of the foreigners. The Daily Mail has recently had to quietly remove a hate-filled article regarding its ‘...devastating report about 300,000 illegal migrants living in Paris’, after it was shown to be a fabrication. Nearer to home, the vice-president of the diputación (‘county-council’) in Alicante, the PP veteran Alejandro Morant, is calling for ‘mass-deportations’, because, you see,  ‘...this is not immigration, it is a silent invasion that will end the Western world, turning it into Islam’.
Ah, Islam, where they wear pyjamas in the street and talk funny. Where words like Sharia, burqa and halal are bandied about by the Media to frighten our children. So frightening.
It is nevertheless evident that the immigrants do cause problems, especially – it goes without saying – the poor ones.
Perhaps these issues are exaggerated, because we all enjoy a good story, or a moment of indignation or perhaps some validation for our hatred of foreignness, but there is no smoke without fire. All said, it is true that the current wave of immigrants are not the cream of North African society: they are not doctors from Dakar, nor bank-managers from Bamako, nor chiropodists from Casablanca. They are uneducated, raw and largely unwanted.
But, as we know from our past, the hatred of foreigners can bring about war, destruction and harsh right-wing governments. Blacks, Orientals and Moors are so easy to notice, too.
Unfortunately for the haters, the Spanish are extremely generous towards foreigners, and many a child here shows evidence of having being born in another culture, but adopted and brought up as a natural family-member. We buy stuff from the manteros, who spread their sheets full of CDs or shoes or knock-off shirts on the sidewalk, we regularly visit the Chinese bazaars (because they are cheap and always open) and we eat in the Moorish restaurants (because the food is good).
And the undocumented immigrants themselves are exploited by mafias who, since we are talking illegal, are riding on their backs. The man who pays 1,800€ to cross the Mediterranean. The man who sleeps on the floor of a tiny apartment with ten others and must sell tat to the tourists to survive. The man who works in an invernadero in dangerous temperatures and conditions.
We see immigrants in our rear-view mirrors – what do they see?
Perhaps a partial solution is to help those African countries from whence come these migrants – but we know that financial aid is no answer (it will all get pinched and end up in a Swiss bank account). However, we could build things for them (like the Chinese are doing).
Every day the images are there on the TV, sad but relieved Africans wrapped in thin blankets and waiting to be processed by the overwhelmed Guardia Civil. Some people watching will say – this must stop – there are too many.
And yes, it has to stop – because the Far-Right will gather force from the increasingly over-hyped situation, and it will return with a vengeance.  

Jan says:  nice article on bloody furriners.  As per usual, I can't manage to negotiate your contribution system, so would you like to add the following comment:The 1800 euros comes from the family and community in which they lived in Africa.  The family and community see the 1800 euros as an investment;  if one man can work in Spain, he can send 1800 euros (36 euro per week) back that year, and then continue to send 36 euro per week for the next three or four years.  That way the money won't disappear into Swiss bank account or prestigious useless dams.  Every week at the local post office I have to stand in the queue as these "unwanted" (says who?) unwashed send all their spare cash home - and live in utter poverty meanwhile.  And the cost - 1800 euros - is mainly caused by all those righteous people who don't want foreigners picking their salad at a bare-bones wage.