Sunday, 20 January 2013

Not saving, but drowning

We were lucky to get out of Pamplona. Already by Tuesday the ring road was impassable in two places and parts of the city were experiencing flooding - if it had carried on raining until Friday evening, when we packed up our books and came back through the pre-Pyrenean mountains, we might not have been able to get back at all.

Fortunately, the rain took Thursday off, and though it came back on Friday afternoon, presumably opting against making a puente of it, by that time the waters had receded. There was not, in truth, all that much human drama on account of the rain, but earlier in the week there was a last-minute rush to save the dogs trapped in an animal shelter. Local television and newspapers carried pictures of some very wet dogs being carried to safety.

There was a lot of weather on the news this past week, what with the rain, and the snow, and in many parts of northern Spain the snow foolwed by the rain. Or the other way around. The flurries of snow vied for prominence with the flurry of corruption stories which, while rarely absent from our screens at the moment, have been particularly hard to miss over the past few days.

In Spain, these cases come with names - Caso Faisán, for instance, or Caso Campeón, and my favourite of these is probably Caso Pokémon, a case revolving around political corruption in Galicia, something about which the Galician Mariano Rajoy is strangely reluctant to speak. The most important of them, however, is probably the Caso Gürtel, which involves political corruption in the Partido Popular primarily in Valencia, but also in Madrid, and by extension, since Madrid is the capital, throughout the ruling party.

This last week, thanks to El Mundo, it transpired that we are now apparently to have a Caso Bárcenas, Luis Bárcenas being the ex-treasurer of the Partido Popular, and a man who came under suspicion during the long investigation of Gürtel. He even resigned his post, although his party were decent enough to issue a statement in his support, assuring us of their total faith in his innocence.


Confidence in Sr. Bárcenas's innocence is not being expressed quite as enthusiastically in PP circles now as it was four years ago, or indeed as convincingly, seeing as the gentleman is being accused of passing envelopes of cash to senior party figures and of having had 22 million Euros in a Swiss bank account, money which is mysterious in origin and which, equally mysteriously, is alleged to have disappeared from that account when Bárcenas found himself under suspicion during Gürtel.

El País:
Bárcenas is implicated in the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts scandal, which first broke in 2008. Under an ongoing investigation into the corruption ring, it emerged earlier this week that Bárcenas had a bank account in Switzerland in which he had deposited as much as 22 million euros. He also took advantage of a tax amnesty in place last year to declare 10 million euros, which had previously been kept hidden from the tax authorities.
This last point is politically explosive, since it is being suggested that the amnesty was used, perhaps even devised, in order to allow Bárcenas to put himself and his activities beyond the reach of subsequent legal action. Be that as it may, the PP are currently trying to distance themselves from their former treasurer, which is not entirely convincing either, for reasons that El País points out:
sources said that despite stepping down as a senator and leaving the party in April 2010, Bárcenas has continued to appear in its Madrid headquarters, seeking help from PP officials to find a solution to the legal quagmire in which he finds himself. He was last seen in the building – located in Génova Street in the center of Madrid – as recently as Wednesday of this week.
The story broke on Thursday, since when, outside the building - and outside other PP buildings in other cities - there have been demonstrations.

Rajoy is not too keen to talk about this case, either. But although the PP-friendly evening news on RTE didn't run the story until nearly quarter of an hour into their Thursday bulletin (to be fair, the Algerian hostage crisis was on first, but even so) it's been hard to get away from. And who, other than PP members, would want to?

While I was enjoying the news, I stumbled across a discussion on the state 24-hour news channel, 24h. This discussion, which I enjoyed a little less, was illustrated with a clipping from the Washington Post, in English, which unfavourably compared the French economy with its counterparts in Italy and Spain, which had - I forget the exact phrase, probably because I was distracted by the need to shout at the telly - made greater efforts to improve their competitiveness.

In my less intellectually generous moments, which are many, I find it hard to see anything other than cant in invocations of competitiveness when the Mediterranean countries are discussed. I mean, Good God, since the present government embarked on its reforms to improve competitiveness, the ostensible reason for which is to reduce unemployment by reducing the costs of employing people, the unemployment figure in Spain has risen by about a million.

So how can this be an obvious example of a path that other countries should follow? But apparently it is, or at least it is if it can be used as a stick to belabour the French government, or the French in general, or the welfare state or trades unions wherever they may be.

Essentially, it is cant. Not because competitiveness is a meaningless concept, but because it is evident that what has been going on in the past four years has not been some policy-led effort to regain competitiveness, but a panic-driven effort to pay back as much debt as the markets (who incurred it) may demand by taking as much off ordinary people as they can be induced, or forced, to surrender.

That has been the process. To talk about competitiveness, in that context, is a bit like burning a building down for the insurance and complaining that it should be better built. It is madness. But those whom the gods wish to be destroyers, they first make mad.

At very least, it is unreal to speak of an economy regaining competitiveness, or even taking steps to do so, while unemployment and homelessness and poverty are continuing to increase everywhere. Unreal. But these are unreal times. Money distributed in envelopes. millions going in and out of Swiss accounts. Economics discussed as if we were going in the right direction instead of living through an absolute disaster. Either they cannot see, or they are not looking.

We got safely home from the floods in Pamplona. Not everybody did. Not all the dogs were rescued, when the waters came. Two of the smallest dogs were found dead. Others were missing, believed drowned. But nobody seemed to know how many.

[PP statement: Huffington Post]

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