Who can afford politics anyway?

For weeks, newspapers have been full of Covid-19 analyses, talking about threats, risks, and measures to protect us from the virus. Few have talked about the long-needed opportunity to reflect on our political systems – here is one of them.

It does not matter whether we care about politics or not, even those that believe it to be the essence of or society should at least once consider its costs. Covid-19, the different approaches that governments around the globe took to contain its spread, and the relative ‘successes’ of these measures, deserve a closer look. More so, if we look at what is still to come, for example the economic consequences of hwo the ‘sanitary crisis’ was (mis-)managed. In that sense, Covid-19 reveals an opportunity that few people really wish for – not those at the bottom end of society, because they would definitely loose fate, nor those at the top, since it would reveal their true motivations.

Talking about the ridiculously strict measures we citizens in Spain have been suffered under for more than two months already, a friend of mine said: “what do you expect from a government composed among others of a health minister that studied philosophy and a minister of economy with a degree in history of arts?”. What sounds like a good joke, describes the reality in an overwhelming majority of nations worldwide including Spain: our governments are made of people that to a very large extend have no clue what they are talking about! Whereas in the private sector people are hired according to their competences, in politics what matters are party loyalty and capacity of adaptiveness to a rotten system.

In Spain, politics have been centred around questions of power, discrimination, and abuse for as long as historians can tell. Consequently, corruption and unjustified spending have been popular with left-wind and right-wing governments. It should thus not surprise that in handling the Covid-19 crisis, the key factor are not the citizens or measures to best protect them, but how to use a high mortality rate to make economic profit! Already struggling with high debts, Spain chose a different path from that of northern European countries: better lie flat and enjoy the promise of ‘free money for all’ than trying to cope with the situation. ‘Partying’ can never be more joyful than when someone else is paying. That is what President Sánchez must have thought as well when he addressed his EU colleagues, only getting more vocal than usual when some of them did not immediately show the expected excitement. However, the calculation may not pay off for everyone, if things go as they have historically gone.

Thinking a bit more along ‘responsibilities’ we may ask ourselves who should pay for the costs of Spanish politics? Some Chinese traders in Wuhan’s animal market that may have sparked Covid-19? Or is it the Germans who have nothing to do with how badly the Spanish government managed this (and others) crisis? Maybe it is a good time to think about political consequences and how to choose a competent government in the future. When you need some fixing in your bathroom, do you call the hair shop or the best plumber you know? I argue that the fact that Sánchez was the only one to represent PSOE in the past elections even though nobody wanted him does not justify asking Europe for economic support when dealing with the consequences – not even now that Covid-19 (fortunately) comes in as a welcome excuse.

Rather than finding a cheap way out, Spanish (and other citizens as well) should think about how they want their future to look like. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote how I was stopped trying to ride my bicycle on Easter day. I tried the same today, but following advice of friends from different countries, I switched to my MTB and intended to go to the hills. Only that I was stopped by the police 500m from home and send home after a ridiculous discussion about which way I had to choose when ‘intending to buy milk in the village’. While I had to turn around frustrated and angry, thousands of Spanish car drivers are enjoying a Sunday on the road whereas President Sanchez’ promise of an ecological transition remains deep down in his drawer. Is that the future we want? A sustainable development agenda in which governments invite ‘popular climate activists’ to an international climate forum due to its media attention while discriminating against cyclists when nobody watches?

Whatever we may or may not know about Covid-19, it tells us this much about political economy: if your government handled the crisis trying to strike a balance between mobility restrictions and economic development and using measures that are tailored according to scientific knowledge (e.g. Germany or Switzerland), then you are on the right way. If in contrast, your government has only counted the death, aligned their actions with political gains, applied random rules that ignore science, and constantly talked about economic compensation as has been the case in Spain, then you might want to consider how much longer you can afford to support your government. Latest when the tax department calls, you will remember that promises are just what they have historically been: complimentary talk.

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Covid-19 y la libertad en España. Un ensayo.

El domingo, día 12 de abril 2020 y Pascua de Resurrección, fui denunciado por circular en bicicleta por una carretera pública de un pueblo cerca de mi casa. Mientras que los agentes de la policía local eran de la opinión que eso está prohibido por ley, yo no estoy de acuerdo. Es más, me pregunto a qué punto podemos fiarnos de las instituciones españolas como la prensa que sirven de fuentes de información, pero quienes, como veremos más adelante, también se pueden considerar como medios de control que sirven a la élite y su ‘arquitectura de la opresión’[1].

Es cierto que el Covid-19 nos preocupa, entretiene o ‘amenaza’ (como algunos prefieren decir) a todos. Lo que hasta ahora es menos cierto, es cómo podríamos protegernos mejor de lo que aún está por venir. Aunque a nivel global hemos adquirido una increíble cantidad de información sobre el virus en muy poco tiempo, ningún gobierno destaca por representar un ejemplo de cómo gestionar mejor una ‘mini-crisis’ como era el Covid-19 al principio. El Covid-19 es un problema manufacturado, no por sí mismo. Una pandemia como la que tenemos ahora se podría haber previsto hace años[2] y la tragedia resultante, probablemente podría haberse evitado con las medidas adecuadas. Sobre todo, después del surgimiento del MERS y SARS. No, el Covid-19 no es la amenaza imprevisible que nos dicen, sino una herramienta para fines que van mucho más allá del control temporal de una situación caótica.

‘El miedo’ ha sido empleado por la élite para controlar las masas durante siglos y parece que de nuevo, la élite se sirve del miedo para controlarnos. Lamentablemente, lo hacen con gran éxito. En España, uno de los países donde se han tomado las medidas más restrictivas, millones de personas llevamos encerrados en casa por más de cuatro semanas – con consecuencias económicas, físicas y psicológicas muy negativas que no se pueden negar. ¿Está justificado todo esto? Mientras que una mayoría parece aprobar las medidas, hay por lo menos unos 650,000[3] ciudadanos españoles que no están de acuerdo con la represión. Puede que haya más, pero son conscientes de la historia más reciente y saben que la ‘desobediencia civil’ puede ser costosa en un país en el cual el pueblo ha sido reprimido durante toda su historia y donde hay personas condenadas a 13 años de cárcel únicamente por expresar su opinión política. Desde esta perspectiva, arriesgar 18 meses de cárcel por respirar cinco minutos a fondo parece un riesgo desproporcionado. ¿Pero lo es, de verdad?

No todos contestarían afirmativamente. En una entrevista reciente, Edward Snowden, uno de los defensores de libertad y pensadores más críticos de nuestros tiempos, nos explica cómo el Covid-19 no es nada más que una oportunidad que se le ha presentado a una élite que sigue construyendo su ‘arquitectura de la opresión’. El Covid-19 es un brote de algo que podría costarnos más caro que seis semanas encerrados en un apartamento. No me atraen las teorías conspirativas, pero las reacciones al Covid-19 me dejaron en ‘estado de alarma’ mucho antes de que éste se declarara aquí en España. ¿Es coincidencia que el Covid-19 surgiera justo cuando los conflictos sociales en China, Rusia, América Latina y otros lugares estaban llegando a un nivel que desafiaba a los ‘regímenes en control’?  ¿Cuando el ‘efecto Greta’ por fin puso la crisis climática en el centro de la política, o al menos, de las comunicaciones de los mass media? ¿Dónde se han ido estas voces en los últimos dos meses? ¿Y por qué no estábamos mejor preparados considerando que el riesgo de una pandemia ya se había identificado hace años3? Con lo del confinamiento no puedo evitar pensar en la represión contra la ciudadanía catalana en la era de Rajoy.

¿No les parece raro que un país supuestamente democrático denuncie a ciudadanos por ir en bicicleta por una zona rural en un día festivo en el siglo 21? ¿No les resulta desproporcionada esta medida, comparado con las (nulas) medidas tomadas por la élite a la denuncia de la Comisión Europea contra España por incumplir la normativa de calidad del aire? Igual estas élites no tienen esta visión de una Europa solidaria y unida como la que presentó el presidente P. Sánchez en diferentes periódicos europeos. No se reconocen en la idea de una Europa con ideales conjuntos y fines solidarios. Hay una Europa y otra Europa. Por un lado, la Europa de ideales y valores compartidos que necesita el diálogo. Por otro lado, la Europa de normas impositivas de una plutocracia que se refiere a la ‘unidad’ en cuando puede beneficiarse del colectivo, pero la cual niega el ‘conjunto’ cuando se trata de asegurar el bienestar de todos. La primera tiene en su centro el diálogo con la ciudadanía y un discurso crítico, mientras que la segunda está motivada por la avidez de los pocos y una interpretación muy estrecha de las opciones disponibles.

Eso sí, alcanzar la Europa de ideales compartidos exige un poco más que llamar al gran hermano cuando conviene. Ante todo, requiere que cumplamos con las necesidades más básicas, como la protección de los refugiados y otras personas vulnerables, o el respeto mutuo. En el preámbulo a la Constitución Española, se prevé ”proteger a todos los españoles y pueblos de España en el ejercicio de los derechos humanos, sus culturas y tradiciones, lenguas e instituciones”, un fin que está más detallado en Artículo 16, 1 donde “se garantiza la libertad ideológica, religiosa y de culto de los individuos y las comunidades sin más limitación, en sus manifestaciones, que la necesaria para el mantenimiento del orden público protegido por la ley.” ¿Si uno circula en bici o anda por la calle, sin acercarse a nadie y evitando así un riesgo de contagio por el Covid-19 u otra enfermedad, acaso no está cumpliendo con estos ideales que la Constitución Española protege?

Imaginando que una restricción de movilidad total provocara más problemas que resuelve, ¿era lo suficiente visionario por parte del nuevo gobierno adornar la represión con excepciones como las definidas por el Artículo 7 del RD 463/2020[4]? El Artículo 7 estipula que “durante la vigencia del estado de alarma las personas únicamente podrán circular por las vías o espacios de uso público para la realización de”, entre otras actividades[5] “g) por causa de fuerza mayor o situación de necesidad o h) cualquier otra actividad de análoga naturaleza.” No creo que el presidente, quien quería ser el presidente “para todos los/las españoles/as”, pensase en el bienestar de todos en cuando se añadieron los párrafos g) y h) del artículo 7. Lo que tenía en mente eran sus amigos, y los amigos de los amigos. Igual a otros países autocráticos, España impone la represión a los demás y deja excepciones para los pocos. Y para ellos, siempre hay certificados que justifiquen una excepción[6]. ¿Lograremos a construir una “España moderna e innovadora” como la que prometió P. Sánchez durante la campaña electoral del año pasado con excepciones y discriminación?

No sé a qué punto era sincero con esta innovación. Cierto es que a los líderes de Vox y del PP les importan lo mismo las dificultades respiratorios de las víctimas de Covid-19 o de los ciclistas como les importan a los periódicos las vidas de los que ayunan para poder cumplir con el confinamiento. Lo único que ellos quieren, es llamar la atención. Si estuviesen sinceros, nos confrontarían con los destinos de todas las personas afectadas por medidas de prevención irracionales en lugar de hablar de Rajoy en ropa deportivo. De hecho, pienso que la pregunta central respecto al Covid-19 no es ¿Qué podemos hacer durante el confinamiento? como sugieren algunos periodistas sino ¿Por qué todas las instituciones españolas nos manipulan, atemorizan e intimidan? ¿Por qué no nos indican como protegernos ante la precariedad, ansiedad, problemas físicos y otras consecuencias negativas si la única justificación para el confinamiento deberían ser los riesgos sanitarios de una movilidad menos restrictiva? Igual es que las instituciones españolas, que han servido de medio de control para explotar al pueblo durante siglos, no han cambiado con el cambio de gobierno. Para la élite, lo de ‘Europa’ y ‘Covid-19’ son nada más que alibis, como las mascotas, que se llevan a la calle para que no les desenmascaremos por sus motivos verdaderos.

Volviendo al principio de mi artículo y reflejando sobre el tema de la Pascua, me pregunto ¿Qué haría un Mesías si estuviese entre nosotros? ¿Se quedará en casa por miedo de la represión? No creo. ¡Olvidemos las excepciones y los privilegios! En una España pluricultural, todos tenemos ‘un certificado’ que nos permite salir a la calle. Se llama la razón y es el único medio que garantiza la libertad de todos ante la desinformación y autoridades confundidas.

[1] Término adaptado de E. Snowden

[2] Piensen en la multitud de películas sobre el tema que ya surgieron en los años 90 o el estudio que avisó al gobierno alemán del riesgo de una pandemia en 2012, pero que fue ignorado.

[3] Número de denuncias por infracciones del Real Decreto 463/2020, hasta el día 13 de abril de 2020.

[4] Que se declaró por gestionar COVID-19

[5] que deberán realizarse individualmente

[6] De hecho, no me sorprendió que la primera pregunta de los agentes que me pararon fuera: “Usted tiene un certificado que le permite circular en bici?”

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The end of civilization?

Covid-19 is ending what 9/11 initiated: the end of privacy, freedom and common sense. It may have triggered the abolishment of a ‘civil society’ as we knew it (or thought we did).

It’s been a long time since I had the motivation to write here. Well, to be more precise, I find it ever harder to not being cynical looking at the reality. So, better leave it….but now we are sitting here, locked up in our homes (those who have one), and waiting for our mostly incompetent governments to decide who can breathe when and in what circumstances. That hasn’t always been so. There was a time (and some places), when citizens’ opinions counted, when civil society was considered an important part of the political system, and when governments made an effort to seek the best outcome considering the issues at stake.

With 9/11 this has changed forever as Edgar Snowden convincingly demonstrates in his recent book. Nowadays, governments and bureaucrats don’t see themselves as representing ‘the people’. Only focused on power and how to gain power, the only things ‘those in charge’ really care about is their electorate (that is, if they even need to consider that). While it is widely believed that the majority of votes still represents the majority of opinions, all of us that look a bit deeper into the details, know that it’s not exactly the majority of citizens that decide on political outcomes. For that end, it has become common practice to systematically exclude unwanted voters[1], manipulate others, or to cheat, falsify and lie. Whereas some time ago, a president insulting its people, other members of government, or a representative of a foreign country would have been perceived as rude, D. Trump has demonstrated that today one can win global support being an asshole [2]. Trump may be an asshole as a person but he is also the one holding up the mirror for us to see what we have become.

Rather than stopping his aggressive, mean, and totally disgusting acting, national leaders from other countries only feel attracted to his practice. History repeats itself: it’s not the agressors that are to blame for any human tragedy but the silent bystanders. Today we live in a world order that impresses only for its total lack of competence on all fronts. This couldn’t be better reflected in how Covid-19 has so far been addressed. While every country takes a total isolated approach in how to handle the apparent threat, action mostly precedes rational thinking. In Spain, the newly elected ‘socialist’ president has used the momentum to do what Spanish governments have always done best: take unilateral decisions and repress the people without considering the consequences. The government doesn’t even care to properly inform what we citizens may or may not do [3]. All they tell you is this: if you leave your house, you risk being punished from a fine of EUR 100.- to 18 months of incarceration.

So, instead of keeping calm in a manageable situation (compare it to the situation with which millions of refugees, victims of abuse, and families in precarious conditions have to live on a daily basis), the usual bystanders have become agressors themselves by using the momentum to create ‘states of emergency’ all over the planet. The consequence is that millions of people live in fear for loosing their lives, incomes or jobs. Others, such as the thousands of immigrants that live on lowest incomes and in mostly inhuman conditions to produce the cheap veggies and fruits we are all used to consume or all the elderly women selling food in the streets in Southeast Asia to survive on a few dollars day by day, may even struggle to think about the ‘time after Covid-19’. Yet, for our elites, these people don’t count because they surely aren’t even aware of their existence.

The way most governments have adressed Covid-19 is nothing more but hypocrisy. Have you ever wondered where the Greta effect has gone in those last week? Ever questioned why the dramatic restrictions on mobility have never been used before to cope with a climate crisis that has and will cost not only thousands but billions of lives? In my view it is self-explaining that government representatives who only care about reminding us of our duty to pay our taxes and other contributions to the system, do not really care about citizens or the funcioning of society. All they care about is the ‘final solution’: finding the right means to suffocate the ones that are not really appreciated. For them, Covid-19 is nothing more than a welcome opportunity to execute a long planned agenda.

In light of this reality, all the frightened citizens weighing how much longer they should stay at home should ask themselves the following: what is more scary, the threat of dying on a viral infection or the certainty of increasingly being exposed to the perversion of a totally fucked world elite? If you imagine what still lies ahead of us survivors in the years to come in a world that is more and more nationalist, exclusive and totalitarian and in which governments prevent us from being humans, death might not be the factor to determine whether we still live or not.

[1] See e.g. Joseph Stiglitz: ‘People, Power and Profits’.

[2] How else do you explain his millions of followers?

[3] Try once a web search for ‘gobierno Covid-19’ or ‘confinamiento’ and see.

 

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Can we achieve sustainable development with outdated concepts and reused rhetoric?

The heatwave in Northern Europe and elsewhere provokes many emotions. Althoug even the most conservative among us realize that something needs to change, proposed solutions largely point in the wrong direction.

While even heat-lovers like myself start to feel uncomfortable given the continued high temperatures we are facing north of the Alps, hard hit are not those that shout first or the loudest. In Germany and Switzerland, farmers have been quick to ask for subsidies given expected harvest losses. As the majority of today’s citizens understand more about smartphones than agricultural policies and given that politicians get ever more populist, farmer lobbyists make easy prey with their pretended sorrow. Ignoring that they already receive high subsidies which are sold under the framework ‘payment for ecosystem services’, they are granted special rights to pump freshwater out of already stressed water bodies and/or using areas for production that are actually meant as habitat for nature. Once again, the one paying the bill for unsustainable behaviour are not those causing or contributing to it, but wildlife and nature.

Regardless of whether new subsidies are granted to farmers or not, even the most ignorant among us feel that something must change – the big question is how? It is true that those living from agricultural production may suffer more under the current drought, but should consequences be carried by and adaption left to them only? Of course not. We all have a stake in this game; a fact that might explain why sustainable development has become such a buzzword. Sustainable development is everywhere. From academia to NGOs, governments to the private sector, everyone has sustainable solutions, be it “CO2 neutral buses” running though Bern, “sustainable produced” toiled paper at Rewe, “sustainable investment” in major banks….everyone seems concerned to save the planet with “sustainable” products.

Understanding why climate shocks are increasing despite of all the ‘good solutions’ requires some more than blind ignorance. Many solutions sold as ‘sustainable’ are pure rhetoric. The city of Bern makes a good example. The local government which prides itself for its “left-wingish” tradition is distributing pool and soccer tables in neighbourhoods pretending that sustainable cities are built on governance that compensate losers for an overly car friendly traffic policy. Counting bicycles or building new tramways for thousands of students that are too lazy to walk the 300m from the train station to the University are equal cheap and foolish rhetoric as are access restrictions in neighbourhoods that have become affordable to only a few elites. True, closing roads as a protest against motorized vehicles sounds fun, but does it really contribute to sustainable development if the local residents that deny access to other road users can resist from owning big SUVs that serves the family to pollute nature at the weekend? Is it not another example of how the world is increasingly divided into those that have and those that don’t? What makes me really hot are not the elevated temperatures but the fact that farmers shout for monetary compensation and the Swiss government talk about new irrigation infrastructure, while northern researchers and NGOs (including Swiss) have earned lots of money ‘promoting climate adaptation measures‘ such as ‘climate smart agriculture’ a in the global South. Is what we promote elsewhere too sophisticated to use in our own countries?

Luckily, the extended heatwave we are currently facing provides the opportunity to reflect a bit longer and to question concepts that have been used again and again but seem to fail repeatedly. Do we really change society for the better by closing 40km of roads for a bicycle event that draws attention only because of all the infrastructure and extra action that has been built up explicitly? No, we do not, as counting bicycles does not increase bicycle traffic. Big challenges call for truly innovative solutions, such as Sundays without motorized vehicles across the country, traffic rules that favour pedestrians and bicycles, climate and eco smart farming practices in the global North, and finally, retailers that open their shelfs for veggies and fruit that do not look perfect[1].

[1] According to current ‘retail policies’ and an arrogance that denies a connection between sustainable consumption and environmental protection.

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Why Brussels’ position on Cataluña does the EU more harm than good

Brussels’ leaders have decided to condemn the Catalans’ fight for independence by backing a corrupt regime in Madrid. This weak, yet undifferentiated attitude may harm the EU in the long run.

What does the average EU citizen know about Spain? Not much, I would argue. Apart from tapas that are now eaten in hip bars around Europe and the infamous beaches in Mallorca or Benidorm, many do neither know Spain’s recent history, nor the different language and cultural borders within the country. One does not need to be aware that Cava and Freixenet are from Cataluña to enjoy a good and economic alternative to Champagne. What the average EU visitors enjoy about Spain are sunshine, sandy beaches, a warm and friendly atmosphere, and decent food. What they don’t know is that all their Catalan counterparts strive for is exactly the same, only that this right has increasingly been taken from them over recent years.

In the EU we assume that all can enjoy their democratic rights. Not so in Spain, where a corrupt government in Madrid continues to reign despite of having repeatedly been out-voted by the majority of citizens. Party money laundering in Switzerland, real estate crimes, fueling environmental disasters that enrich businesses, everything seems possible under a right-wing regime in Madrid. However, possible doesn’t mean it is tolerated. Over and over have Spanish citizens tried to stand up for their rights, some a bit more, some a bit less. If the Catalans, who for whatever reasons seem to understand and care a bit more than many compatriots in other regions, eventually got so tired of a right-wing government in Madrid that repeatedly ignored Spain’s constitution, laws and regulations, should it really surprise us? Isn’t this latent corruption and carelessness exactly what many of us annoys when we enjoy our holidays in Europe’s far South? Why then should Catalans put up with it while being hold back from further development and hence closer ties to Europe?

If other EU leaders such as Merkel and May defend Rajoy’s dictatorship, then it’s not because of their sympathy for a united Spain. Instead, they see a chance to safe their own cases. Merkel finds herself in a position where she might need to quit her ambitions for eternal power after the outcome of Germany’s election in September and thus give up her long-term competition with her peer Recep T. Erdogan. May has experienced her share of independence aspirations in the recent past and certainly fears further tumults in her own geographic North. Of course they don’t like what is happening in Cataluña, as it further weakens their positions. Rajoy has long done what would suits them too: ignoring the masses and pleasing the few that hold power. Following suit, Merkel and May will be able to unilaterally translate their own agendas into practice as well.

However, their reaction might be of short life. Rather than opposing the movements in Spain, they should understand them as warning signs for what is increasingly building up elsewhere in Europe: we citizens are fed up with governments that don’t care for their people. Brussels has never been further away from its citizens than it is today, regardless of the thousands of kilometers of highways and high-speed trains, and the internet accesses that have been built in the EU. While citizens worry about their neighborhoods and identities steadily disappearing, bureaucrats react with ever more bureaucracy. It can’t work. Connecting with people means understanding their needs and desires. What us Europeans united in the first place is a common understanding of values such as freedom, independence and justice. Where this values are no longer protected, there is nothing to hold us together.

The beauty of the EU is that it could guarantee exactly these values and rights where corrupt governments abuse their power. Instead the EU’s leaders have now decided to do the opposite and further oppress democracy. In the long run this can only end where it all started in 1789: in chaos and with a few heads falling at the guillotine. Maybe it’s the only alternative we people have. In that sense, rather than condemning the Catalans as rebels, we should acknowledge that they are one step ahead of all of us.

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Why resurrecting fake news about Pangasius are a loss for humanity

The Vietnamese Pangasius sector has seen rough times since wrong claims back in 2011 destroyed the reputation of Panga farming in the Mekong Delta. While experts and scientists have worked hard to establish facts and to improve production practices, wrongdoers and laymen continue to destroy what was once legitimately lauded as a ‘success story’ of aquaculture development.

Back in early 2014 I wrote a post about the Pangasius industries in Vietnam and how wrong claims have had a heavy toll on a sector that provides employment and livelihoods for thousands of people in the Mekong Delta. Despite an improvement process that involved far-ranging consultation with hundreds of experts and stakeholders all over the world, Pangasius production is once more affected by wrong allegations: a TV report followed by various news articles have led to rapid declines of Pangasius imports to Spain. Whereas French supermarket giant Carrefour was quick to remove Pangasius from its shelves in other European countries as well, consumers do better listening to science than following the decisions of sharks and laymen.

Firstly, one needs to understand the parties involved in the TV report that led to renewed distrust in Europe. ‘En el punto de mira[1]’ aired by Spanish Cadena 4, is a program that most of all seeks to increase its viewer numbers. It does so by creating scandals that personally affect the majority of a largely ignorant society. It might be a coincidence that Ricardo Pardo, reporter of the Panga story, comes from Vigo which is also home to Spain’s infamous fishing fleet. A billion dollar business that has lived from exploiting worldwide fishery resources over decades thanks to heavy support from EU tax payers, Vigo’s fishery industry has vested interests in protecting its market shares and deceiving consumers over its unsustainable business ethics or the fact that it has done very little to improve its performance over the years while others did. Back in 2011, when first allocations targeted at weakening the Pangasius sector, the anti-campaign was driven by European salmon and trout farmers. Similar to their Spanish colleagues, they did not primarily look at improving the production conditions in Vietnam, but at saving their own skin and market shares, which under the increasing pressure exerted by NGOs and backed by scientific evidence became threatened. An industry that consumes more fish in the form of feed than it produces can’t be regarded as sustainable and only increases the problem of global overfishing. Therefore it needs other means to fight competitors with a scientific advantage.

Secondly, one needs to understand the culture of the country where the accusations come from. In Spain, a country disease-ridden by systematic corruption and one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, particularly among younger people, sensations and fake news make a good substrate for public outcry. This is all the more the case if people can attack citizens from countries that according to their viewpoint should be worse off than themselves but are obviously not. Envious, lazy and powerless in light of a quasi-totalitarian government, Spain’s younger generation uses youtubing, facebooking, blogging and tweeting to steam off part of the rage that derives from a lack of access and lost opportunities. In that world, likes count more than facts and badly investigated news travel quicker than brains can think. Spanish love seafood, yet the majority knows very little about sustainability and eco-footprints of fish products. The reason is the absence of a discourse as it has been held in other countries for more than a decade. In addition, where people don’t even know the difference between Switzerland and Sweden, Asia is an unknown monster famous for the production of cheap Chinese products which are sold in ‘todo a cien’ shops now predominantly run by Chinese immigrants. Needless to say that part of that hate against Chinese also affects Vietnamese, Thai, and all the other ‘chinorris’ who take over business in Spain.

Finally, one should not trust a source of information unless it is known to be sound. When Celia Ojeda, responsible for Oceans and Fishery at Greenpeace Spain, claims that Pangasius farming “destroys mangrove” and that the Panga industry was “affected by slavery” then she uses her position at Greenpeace to impress citizens that are geographically and culturally even less educated than she is, ignoring that as a freshwater species Pangasius is not farmed in mangrove areas and that the ‘human right abuses she might have heard of came from Vietnam’s neighbor Thailand. Likewise, if retail giant Carrefour is dropping Pangasius from its product range, then this says more about its sourcing policy than production methods in Vietnam. The fact that Carrefour follows claims that are almost diametrically opposed to the reality—Pangasius is one of the more eco-friendly farmed fishes, the Mekong River is by far not the most polluted river, and Pangasius that enters Europe undergoes some of the most stringent controls on the planet—suggests that Carrefour knows nothing about the sector. Part of the failure of the Pangasius sector is exactly the arrogance of retailers like Carrefour who are only interested in exploiting their ‘partners’ as a source of cheap goods rather than taking ownership in their value chains. While leading companies work together with producers to improve Pangasius production, Carrefour & Co. delegate sourcing responsibility to traders that provide the cheapest products on the market. Needless to say that such businesses lack any kind of tracebility. Turning their backs on Pangasius reflects a lack of information and consequently lack of trust in themselves, not in Pangasius producers which they probably only know from saying.

Education and science, the only way to advance humanity, can help us to shed light on a complicated Pangasius story and provide answers to complex questions. In contrast, in a wold in which poor journalism is preferred over science, humanity is doomed to fail – just as some among us who bark up the wrong tree.

[1] Spanish for ‚In the spotlight‘

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Europe and the financial mafia – a love affair

About a year ago I wrote about how US measures on curbing tax evasion had unnecessary repercussions on innocent citizens worldwide. Meanwhile I got used to be ripped off by dubious financial institutions that started controlling all sorts of money transactions in Europe.

No doubt, the majority of European citizens must support measures that stop the unethical practices of the rich to evade taxes by moving their assets to some dubious offshore financial institutions while fattening their bellies thanks to our state support. Recent observations however make me believe that European states are doing the opposite: financial transactions are increasingly becoming a source for unjustified rents by a number of strange organizations. One example is a flight ticket that I bought online from Iberia, the Spanish national Airline. Not long ago, one bought an Iberia ticket from ‘the company’ through either cash, debit card or credit card payment. Nowadays, Iberia is split into three different companies and one must first decide whether to fly Iberia, Iberiaexpress or Vueling. It’s all the same flight, only the revenues go into different pots. Once the ticket is booked and one proceeds to the online payment, a (to me unknown) third party provider pops up: SOFORT GmbH. Asked to enter my private bank user name and password to SOFORTs website I was a bit reluctant but did so eventually as I needed the ticket urgently and believed that Iberia knew what it was doing. Indeed, all went well and I was sent my e-ticket soon after.

Two days later I received an email from SOFORT GmbH telling me that the transaction for my ticket had failed and that I needed to follow-up on the payment if I did not want to risk losing my seat. Alerted I logged into my online bank account[2] and saw that the transaction was on hold. I could click on it but not do anything more. Eventually, I decided to follow the instructions of SOFORT and make a manual bank transfer. Done, I contacted SOFORT and they confirmed that all was good now. Another two days later I figured that I was deducted the full amount twice, both on the same day. Again, I contacted SOFORT, but immediately got a reply that they could not help me. Rather, I should contact the merchant/provider/PSP where I had placed the order. Fxxx! So what the heck is a PSP? After some more emails back and forth I figured that the PSP might be Loviiit. However, Loviiit, ‘DOCOMO Digital’s e-commerce and m-commerce payments enabler’, which ‘provides international and multi-currency payment processing services, including e-money and mobile payment wallets for sellers and buyers, fraud and risk prevention as well as consumer financing solutions’ is a company that does not even publish an email address or any other contact information on their website. All you can do is submit an inquiry, wait and hope.

While I’m still waiting to get my Euro 400 back, I’m thinking about my purchase and the parties involved. SOFORT as I learn from their website is ‘Germany’s leading direct payment system’. And my transfer went to Loviit with seat in Lichtenstein. Why do I need a German payment system to transfer my money to a Lichtenstein company that facilitates the purchase of my online ticket from a Spanish airline? Is that what the European Union stands for: united we steal (better and more efficient)? Once a proud European I start to disrespect this place where all sorts of mafia groups have gained so much power and status that we take them for granted. Are SOFORT and Loviiit even a partner company of the current Spanish government that has taught us how to transfer millions of tax money into the pockets of its party leaders without even fearing an election loss?

I wouldn’t be so angry if that was the first time such a thing happened to me but the reality is that I was involved in all sort of bank fraud over the past few months. There was this ATM withdrawal from Euronet over the amount of 600 EUR from a EUR-account in Switzerland that they charged me in CHF regardless of me denying to have the amount converted into CHF. It costs me 60 EUR in exchange loss due to the really bad exchange rate they applied. 10% of commission for an ATM withdrawal in Europe – who would call that ethic? I also got charged EUR 21 for an inward transaction to the above mentioned online account of BBVA regardless of European law providing that SEPA payments should be free of charge between member states[1]. Europe has become a virtual nightmare with companies stealing wherever they can and nobody being around to answer our inquiries. Meanwhile as a self-employed entrepreneur working in different European countries I spend more time doing paper work and filing tax declarations for a variety of member states than I can dedicate to my actual work from which I gain my income. In the majority of cases I have to deal with highly incompetent state officials that do nothing but count the minutes until their work time ends. Or maybe, they watch the values of their Panama accounts increasing.

To sum up, it appears that Europe has degenerated into a financial Mafia land. All our bureaucrats have achieved in recent years is the private sector copying their practices and stealing time and money from citizens without providing any services in return. Truly a lovely (banking) Union.

 

[1] When such transaction are free of charge for domestic transactions, what they are in the case of my account.

[2] An online bank account by BBVA without support whatsoever that does all but cause me headaches.

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