Rotten apples of all colours

February 27, 2009

rotten apple

I’m not sure why my friend Prospero at JimenaPulse posted an item about corruption in the Axarquía region of Málaga, given that his blog is about the Campo de Gibraltar. The only connection I can think of is that similar charges are rife all over the area in which I live, too. Indeed, my other blogging friend, Sancho at Tilting at Windmills, has written extensively on the subject as well.

In any case, it is a fact that corruption charges are at the height of fashion right now. On the national scene, there is an ongoing scandal that has the Partido Popular (PP) and the PSOE (Socialists) flinging accusations at each other all over the media. The PP is under investigation by former PSOE minister Judge Baltasar Garzón, about which I wrote at length in the previous item. On a more local scale, there are several cases in various courts involving not only these two parties, but also the Partido Andalucista (PA); Ronda, Gaucín, Jimena, La Línea, Los Barrios and Algeciras are merely those that come immediately to mind.

Perhaps the re-resurgence of these cases has to do with the present global financial crisis. Or with the habit of all political parties of pointing fingers at each other as a way to avoid dealing with what really concerns the voters: unemployment (Spain has the highest in the EU at 14.8%), immigration (boatfulls of sub-Saharan refugees, many dead, keep turning up in the Canary Islands), etc. etc.

The trouble is that corruption affects each and every one of us, unlike those issues above that tend to be more selective. Corruption is present, in larger or smaller measure, in all aspects of our lives, in all countries and throughout history. Like prostitution, it is one of those things we tend to ignore until it touches us personally, as it were. But corruption is also a form of prostitution: in one of its definitions, the Oxford English dictionary says that a prostitute is “a person who debases himself or herself for personal gain.”

Prostitution in Spain is illegal but ignored to a large extent (Prospero posted an item that said that the sex industry has lost 20,000 direct or indirect jobs thanks to the crisis). Not so corruption, lately anyway. But then, smokescreens are useful political tools and there are rotten apples in every barrel. Somehow, I would almost say that prostitution is ‘cleaner’.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009

Shooting oneself in the foot

February 23, 2009

Mariano Fernández Bermejo, ministro de Justicia.preview

This is the scenario: Judge Baltasar Garzón initiates an investigation into systematic corruption in the Partido Popular (PP) of Madrid and other important cities. Arrests are made and heavy bails are set. Plenty of PP bigwigs are allegedly involved, some of whom are aforados, including a President of an Autonomous Region governed by the PP and several national and regional deputies (and more to come, apparently).The excrement hits the fan and the PP, which is under its own investigation for spying among its own ranks in Madrid, is in retreat.

When you’re cornered, you attack, don’t you? Mariano Rajoy, the Leader of the Opposition, says that Garzón, who was once, for a short time, a high-up elected PSOE parliamentarian and now sits as one of sx judges on the National Criminal Court ,  is persecuting his, Rajoy’s, party. Like manna from heaven, rather than excrement, for the PP, the Minister for Justice, Mariano Fernández Bermejo (PSOE, photo), is discovered to have gone on a weekend hunting jaunt with the famous Judge Garzón – not very cleverly at the northern Andalucía estate of a member of the PP. To make matters worse, the Minister of Justice did not have the right gun licence for Andalucía, so was hunting illegally.

This scenario turned out to be ideal for both parties: they are able to raise smokescreens of cross accusations instead of dealing with the economy, which neither party seems able to do. Indeed, the PP scored a victory today: Bermejo resigned his Ministry “but I will continue to work from my position as a Deputy”. He had presented his resignation last week but Zapatero didn’t accept it. Until he had to, obviously (See my article: The need to be right, below.)

Bermejo was on a roll until then. He was ‘renovating’ the judicial system, which badly needs it. (The budget for this phase of the renovation is €20 million, and the budget for handing out free long-life light bulbs throughout the country is €40 million.) But he was not well liked by those he was supposed to be renovating: there have been strikes by court officials, court Secretaries and even an unprecedented and allegedly unconstitutional strike by judges. His successor is Francisco Caamaño, who is known as a deft negotiator and well respected. It will take a lot of negotiating to unravel this mess.

In the meantime, the PP licks its chops – though not for long if Garzón has his way. But then, they’re all in an electoral battle in Galicia and the Basque Region, so they may be otherwise occupied.

But one thing must be said: Bermejo is one of very few Spanish politicians to have resigned for a misdeed. This brings to mind the non-resignation of several PP ministers of the Aznar era, who should have resigned for much more serious things, including the mishandling of the Prestige environmental catastrophe, the Yak-42 aircraft accident that killed 62  Spanish soldiers on their way back from Afghanistan – or indeed, Aznar himself, who got his country into the Iraq disaster in the first place, though he was elected out before he could do any more damage.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009

The need to be right

February 16, 2009

Montesquieu Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755), better known simply as Montesquieu, wrote: “I believe that the thing above all which ruined Pompey was the shame he felt to think that in having elevated Caesar the way he did, he had lacked foresight. He accustomed himself to the idea as late as possible; he neglected his defence in order not to avow that he had put himself in danger; he maintained to the Senate that Caesar would never dare to make war; and because he had said it so often, he went on saying it always.” (My italics).

The French philosopher was talking about the Roman Empire, but the same could be applied to, say, Stalin regarding his continuing to purge his supposed enemies long after it was strictly necessary, if it ever was; or to Hitler, who was admittedly mad by then anyway, but carried on sending in ever greener troops into evidently lost battles; or to the Nazi extermination camp guards, who went on torturing and gassing their victims long after the end of World War II had been announced. It might also be applied, then, to just about anything that goes on in Iraq or Afghanistan, and certainly to Guantánamo. If you say it often enough, it becomes automatic and you dare not stop. Hence the need to be right.

What is it about human nature that makes us need to be right? Even in the pettiest of arguments we so often sound like children: “No, it isn’t!” “Yes, it is!” Does repetition become a ‘habit’ then? Does the need to be right become that, too?

We know that the perpetuation of a lie can easily turn it into a ‘reality’, at least in the minds of those who hear it and often in the minds of those who tell it. It is difficult, sometimes, to separate a truth from a lie in our own minds; it is even more difficult to do so in the public mind. Propagandists and advertising agencies know this all too well.

I’m veering off target somewhat but if the above is true, then our own need to be right, when subjected to sufficient repetition, automatically dismisses reason. A matter of not seeing the forest for the trees. Or a matter of false pride: I daren’t back down now, even if I am wrong.

Where does the need to be right lead us? Read the papers: corruption at all levels of society (as I write, the US has just ‘uncovered’ a massive fraud with payments for war material and humanitarian supplies in Iraq that is apparently larger even than the Madoff financial scandal – in itself a good example of the perpetuation of a lie); politicians who refuse to resign even when they’ve been found guilty in court (La Línea’s Mayor says he was not sentenced to resign, while the corruption scandals involving the PP in Madrid have elicited the oft-repeated ‘witch hunt’ remark from their leader Rajoy); and so on and on ad nauseam.

I’m right, of course.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009

207million

Here are a couple of interesting calculations. The US is debating whether to hand over another $700 billion (let’s get those zeros right, we’re talking about $700,000,000,000) to the banks. Forget the $500 billion they’ve already handed over. The world is inhabited by 6,700,000,000 people, give or take a few million born while I’m writing this. Divide the US banks’ $700 billion by the number of inhabitants and you get about $104 million per inhabitant. That’s perspective.

So let’s do the same for Spain (you can do your own maths for whatever ‘developed’ country you like if you have the figures). The population of Spain at the end of 2008 was 46,063,511. The amount of money Zapatero is handing over to the banks so far is €30,000,000,000. Divide the money among the inhabitants (we wish!) and you get €652,000,000 per inhabitant. That’s perspective, and enough to pay a mortgage or two. It would be handy to all those thrown out of their jobs by greedy companies taking advantage of the Crisis (yes, it has to be in caps).

Better not even try doing any of these figures for the banking executives’ bonuses, it would be too depressing…

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009