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Mentat

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  1. Mentat

    Teaching Public Administration - Beyond Balzac

    As a bureaucrat (though not based in the US, so some of this might not be applicable...), this topic is of interest to me. The course seems targeted to address both why bureaucracies don't work as they should and why sometimes public expectations aren't realistic. As to the first, analysing some anecdotal bureaucratic horror stories seems useful (these usually involve some unfortunate citizen trying to obtain a permit/subsidy/other and being blocked by an obnoxious system that demands they produce an interminable number of documents or refuse their petition for ridiculous reasons). What went wrong? Who was to blame? What improvements could be made to the system to ensure such things don't happen? An analysis of regulations (the soul of bureaucracy) also seems interesting. Finding regulations that are archaic, nonsensical, unintelligible or that were passed for completely spurious reasons should be possible. What is the objective of the regulation? How can the regulation be improved to better serve said purpose? Why was the regulation passed in the first place? Why hasn't it changed or disappeared? Studying how bureaucracies can become self-perpetuating and self-serving is also interesting. How are bureaucrats selected? Can they be removed? Who supervises them and how effective is said supervision? How does said process ensure an independent and professional bureaucracy and how could it be improved? Many bureaucracies have systems and regulations set in place to ensure the welfare and job security of the bureaucrats themselves rather than to serve the public and to ensure the quality of the public service that constitutes their raison d'etre. This also ties into the relationship between the decision makers (politicians) and the bureaucrats. How might their interests diverge? If you haven't seen the UK series "Yes, Minister", I consider it a must. The episodes "The compassionate society", "The greasy pole" and "A question of loyalty", from its second season, are all personal favourites of mine, and each highlight different failings of bureaucracy and how and why they come about. The second target (public expectations about bureaucracy) should address the cost of maintaining a bureaucracy and how it is funded. Have your students go back to all the possible solutions to the problems from the first part and examine how cost effective they are. It could also examine why public perception of bureaucracy might be distorted. How much does the common citizen know about bureaucracy and how it works? How much do they trust it to help them? I hope some of this is useful to you!
  2. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    Indeed, it looks like the vote of no confidence will pass today. I wasn't expecting this at all, as Pedro Sánchez has barely negotiated anything with the amalgam of different parties that will support his bid for presidency. It really looks like a vote to kick Rajoy out whatever it takes, with very little thought about what comes next. I would have thought elections will be held some time next year at the latest, and sincerely doubt that Pedro Sánchez will be able to coalesce the very diverse political forces that have helped him oust Rajoy into a coherent parliamentary majority... but we'll have to see. Sánchez and Iglesias should be much better interlocutors than Rajoy for Torrà (Sánchez recently said that the Catalan statute was a problem in its current form and that some way had to be found to make it representative of the will of the Catalans). If Torrà is willing to let the independence referendum go and settle for something less (a new, better Statute and improved regional financing) he'll definitely find open ears (and he could ditch the CUP to form a majority with PSC and Units Podem).
  3. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    On recent news: Quim Torrà has decided to reshuffle his proposed cabinet and get rid of people with judicial entanglements. This means Catalonia will have an effective government and the regional intervention will end. Good news in my view.
  4. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    A vote of no confidence in Spain needs an alternative candidate attached to it, so if it succeeds this new candidate becomes president and replaces whoever is in office and lost the vote of no confidence. The president can't call for elections while there's a vote of no confidence pending. That's the way it works. Pedro Sánchez is standing as alternative candidate. Ciudadanos has said they'd support the vote of no confidence if the alternative candidate was an unaffiliated person tasked solely with dissolving parliament and calling new elections. Pedro Sánchez has refused, saying he intends to govern if he wins. I think the vote of no confidence is unlikely to succeed, but Ciudadanos has already stated it will support the government no longer, so even if it fails, the likelihood of Rajoy dissolving the parliament, standing down and calling for elections is high (it's what all the Spanish newspapers are pressuring him to do). The debate for the vote of no confidence will happen tomorrow, and the vote itself will be held on Friday.
  5. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    It is! I don't think it's all that likely Rajoy and Cospedal will have to face eventual prison sentences, but I think Rajoy's political career is very likely finished (and Cospedal's may be too, though I'm less sure about that). 1-O really wasn't that big a deal for PSOE. I can't remember exactly what they said after the fact, but criticism of the government and police was lukewarm. PSOE tried to make things work in 2016, but they just didn't have the numbers. A pact with Podemos would have alienated Ciudadanos (who was by far their preferred partner) and required an alliance with all the nationalist forces, who were at the time demanding an independence referendum be allowed in order to support them. I'd have to look at back issues of newspapers, but I think some sort of negotiation was attempted but quickly fell apart. I agree it's up to Torrà, and I think legally the Catalan Parliament's lawyers have the right of it. That said, it's definitely not in the best interest of either the People of Catalonia or the Catalan Parliament. A regional minister cannot perform their job from prison (in Spain, people who are in jailed have very limited computer access) and a regional minister cannot stand before parliament to account for their actions if they're in self-imposed exile (and as wonderful as Skype is, their abilities to perform as a politician would be seriously impaired). Torrà knows this perfectly well, and is just seeking to increase political tension. He should nominate someone else (and simply reshuffle his cabinet if or when these people become available). And I respect your opinions... but yes, we're going to have to disagree on this one. If Torrà truly wanted to strike some kind of deal with Spain (which I don't believe) and actually had the authority to do so personally (which I question) he would nominate a 'clean' government (Rajoy's only condition for dialogue... though as I said I don't trust his offer any more than I trust Torrà's) and have some kind of political proposal beyond building the Catalan republic. The whole of the Spanish left supports modifying it. It can be modified in a number of ways, and gaining the needed political consensus would be hard, but it's not impossible. In Spain, the parliament can't pass laws or regulations that don't abide by the Constitution, but if they have the required majority, they can modify the Constitution to say whatever they need it to.
  6. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    Just in the news: PSOE calls for a vote of no confidence on Rajoy. Ciudadanos demands a snap election or they will back the vote of no confidence (totally called it ). This spells the end of Rajoy's government. The only problem is that it might lead to a Ciudadanos government backed grudgingly by PP (which would be the worst of both worlds ).
  7. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    There seems to be hope yet. Yesterday the Audiencia Nacional (one of the highest Spanish courts, and also one that has been consistently criticized by Catalan independence supporters for being in cahoots with the Government after the imprisonment of the two Jordis) decreed a devastating sentence against the PP for the Gürtel corruption racket with very long prison sentences and an explicit declaration that the PP was complicit and benefited from it and that it had been running shadow account books. PSOE has said that they'll be moving for a vote of no confidence against Rajoy, and Ciudadanos might just back them (probably on the condition of general elections being held immediately after). Rajoy will let the Catalan's form a government provided it's composed of 'clean' candidates. In fact I'd argue Rajoy very much wants the Catalans to form a government and cease regional intervention. It's in his best interest. The problem is Torrà wanted to appoint to people in prison and two people in self-imposed exile with an arrest warrant pending to his government. Rajoy (more or less understandably) put his foot down. To me it's pretty clear that Torrà was looking for this exact outcome. The legal counsel of these politicians appointed to the government have consistently stated that these appointments are unlikely to help their case come the trial. As I said as well, I don't give any credence to these offers of dialogue. I think they're political posturing (on both sides) so as not to be seen as intransigent. I'm not even sure how much authority Torrà has to reach some kind of a deal if he really wanted to. Although he is president, it's been made clear that his is an interim government with the main goal of restoring Puigdemont. The Statute that was repealed by the TC couldn't be passed again without a prior modification of the Constitution (because it would be just as unconstitutional the second time round...). The TC jurisprudence would stand. So just modify the Constitution... I would be totally in favor of that. The Basque situation is complicated. On the one hand they managed to wangle a privileged economic deal into the Constitution (which almost everyone outside of the Basque agree is unfair, but is a political powder keg that no one dares touch), but on the other they're (currently) pretty lawful. PNV is letting the Catalan conflict play out, giving lip service to the Catalans (but as we just saw, falling short of real support). The ECJ can certainly help with civil rights issues in an appeal (though this will take some time).
  8. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    Right now it just seems ludicrously unlikely. PNV just backed Rajoy's budget (a decision that was extremely criticized this morning in Catalan public radio, as they had promised they wouldn't unless Rajoy ceased the intervention of Catalan regional government, which so far he hasn't done...) so his government is safe for now, at least for the time being. Rajoy doesn't really have the stomach for any kind of Constitutional amendment right now. He says (and he's not wrong), that there's an utter lack of consensus amongst Spaniards on what Spanish territorial organization should be. Any major modification to the Constitution would require a state-wide referendum, and it would be very tricky. Most importantly, though, there's a lack of political will to do so. It would be unpopular with Conservative voters who favor a more centralized territorial organization and which PP counts on. On the other side of the fence, the newly elected Catalan government is pretty radical. Quim Torrà has said he wants to dialogue, but his actions speak of confrontation. Every choice he has made so far has been something he knew the Spanish government would strongly object to. Even the choice of someone so unabashedly anti-Spain is a poor start if dialogue was the goal. So basically, we need a left-wing Spanish government in power in Spain that's willing to modify the Constitution to expand and secure regional government rule (PSOE and Podemos would likely be on board with this) and a Catalan regional government that's willing to play the long game and settle for less than a binding independence referendum in Catalonia. Right now we have neither, and neither seem a likely prospect in the near future. The whole thing would also have to be subject to a referendum, which as I said would be tricky. A strong opposition by conservative parties would make it likely to fail, so they'd pretty much have to let it slide as the lesser of two evils. Since all this is pretty clearly wishful thinking, we'll have to settle for polarisation, radicalism and the aforementioned clash of trains... Letters to the EU are not likely to do much good. The EU as an institution won't touch this issue with a ten foot pole. I'm not even sure they should...
  9. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    I've become quite wary of people saying they want to dialogue as of late. I think sometimes it means "I want you to fold" (as in Rajoy's latest) and other times it's just a straight lie (as in Torrà's latest). I think the last effective agreement (if short lived) was with the Zapatero government and the last attempt at honest dialogue was probably with Artur Más (and I'm sure Rajoy wishes he hadn't slammed the door in his face now...). I agree it's currently impossible. The Catalan government is far too radical and the Spanish government doesn't have anything resembling a peace offering. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I think 'recognizes Catalonia as a nation' is just meaningless if it can mean anything from ('considers that Catalonia is an independent nation from Spain as of 21/12/2017' to 'Would support a federal amendment to the Spanish Constitution'). I see where you're coming from, but to me you're lumping together parties that have a far too different agenda, and this gives an idea of unity or consensus that sadly doesn't exist. I'm sure you're right, but this thread is several months old, and there are a lot of judicial rulings out there. I'll do some digging when I have more time. I hope you're wrong... I can basically see two solutions to this: a Catalan republic independent from Spain as a (more or less) fraternal self sovereign nation within the EU or a broad agreement about territorial organization and funding within Spain which most Catalans and Spaniards agree to as an acceptable alternative to independence and is ratified as a modification to the Constitution (the pro-independence parties losing their majority in the Catalan parliament would bring a brief respite to the problem, but I don't think it would really solve anything). The problem is that any of this seems extremely unlikely right now. In the less rosy real life, Quim Torrà has appointed two people in preventive prison and two self exiled politicians to his regional government, and Rajoy has said he won't stand for it and is refusing to publish said nomination in the official bulletin or to cease regional intervention until Torrà appoints a 'proper' regional government. Meanwhile, PNV, who have to vote on Rajoy's budget next Wednesday are not amused... If PNV busts the budget, PSOE (who have problems of their own right now) will probably try to topple Rajoy (and they just might succeed, because Ciudadanos like their chances in a general election right now). If PNV supports the budget, it will be seen as the Basque nationalists supporting Rajoy over the Catalan nationalists. It will probably be very unpopular with their voters.
  10. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    I really like the Catalan socialists. If I had my legal residence in Catalonia I would have voted for them. Iceta's intervention in the debate on Monday was by far the best, I thought. Ciudadanos suck. It's a pity, because their success is due in part to an anti-Catalan reaction in the rest of Spain due to the independence process, but the anti-Catalan sentiment (which PP was championing 10 years ago) is partly to blame for the independence movement too, so I guess it's just a vicious circle of bad sentiment and political polarization That said... I really don't think the PP wants to dismantle the autonomy of the Spanish regions. It's a fundamental part of our Constitution (and has been protected in numerous occasions by the TC). Even Ciudadanos wouldn't really dare (though you wouldn't believe that by reading their press releases...). It's true that the centralization-decentralization balance shifts depending on having a right or left wing central government or whether the party in power has an absolute majority or not, but these are small shifts. I'm pretty certain of this. I really think that the PP wants to de-escalate the conflict, because it's just in their best interest to do so. The problem is that in order to de-escalate it effectively it would have to reach some kind of agreement with the pro-independence parties (a federal proposal, some sort of state-wide referendum or something like that), so since it doesn't want to do that it's trying to de-escalate it ineffectively (by just hoping Catalan politicians will be scared of reprisals or relent). That said, I think it's at least trying not to fuel the fire any more (by prolonging the intervention of Catalan autonomy or impeding the election of a radically pro-independence president even if they don't like him) despite Ciudadanos nudging them. BTW, that 70% of the votes figure is misleading, I think. The three parties that are pro-independence (ERC, JxCAT and CUP) got a 47,32% of the votes between the three of them. If you lump the Comuns with them (which I'm not sure you should...), that goes up to 54,75%. You need to add PSC to reach that 70% figure (and I really think that's cavalier). Though they might all desire a higher degree of self-governance, they disagree very much on what and how that should be. The CUP wouldn't even consider negotiating with the Spanish state as they think Catalonia is already an independent republic, while PSC would oppose any move contrary to the Constitution. I'm not sure what exact ruling you're referring to in your first paragraph, but yes, judges are under a lot of different pressures when they're trying a very popular case. Pressure from the media, the government, different political parties or even powerful companies or associations... I'm sure judges and courts in Catalonia also feel pressure when they judge a case related to the independence process as it's such a contentious issue, but I'd never accuse the regional government of trying to unduly interfere with a judge's decision without some kind of hard evidence. Overzealous judges are indeed a problem. I feel that the Spanish government dumping this issue on them rather than trying to solve it via political means is mainly to blame, though the Catalan politicians clear disregard of the law and the Constitution (and said disregard being part of their political rhetoric) is as well, and was bound to put them at odds with the Spanish judiciary. I'm confident this is an issue that will be solved in the long run (via the ECJ, if nothing else) but that's little consolation to people who are being kept pre-emptively in jail.
  11. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    Well, I can't read Rajoy's mind, so I may be wrong, but to me, right now, the unionists want a de-escalation of the conflict (it would be seen as a victory), while the independence side wants to ratchet up the tension (as I said before, I think business as usual would be their death knell). If we're talking ten years ago, then you're absolutely right. Zapatero and the Catalan government were trying to find a negotiated solution to the conflict, while Rajoy was trying to ratchet up the tension, attacking both Zapatero and the Catalans. Now, however, Rajoy is president, so he has been forced to moderate his positions substantially, which Ciudadanos has taken advantage of to steal Rajoy's anti-Catalan thunder. I really don't think Rajoy wants a continuation of Catalan government intervention by the Spanish state, which is an exceptional situation which leads to complaints by the Catalan institutions and media and problems for Rajoy if he wants to reach some kind of deal with the Basque nationalist party PNV (which he currently needs if he wants a majority in Spanish parliament), hence him not appealing Puigdemont and Comín's delegated vote and his insistence that intervention will end once there's a government in Catalonia. I won't argue that most if not all of this is done out of self-interest, but it's what I think he's doing. The Constitutional Court didn't say Puigdemont can't cross the border, they just said that a candidate to president must stand before parliament and debate their program in order to be elected. Puigdemont (and any citizen of the EU, really...) can cross the Spanish border anytime they like. I generally agree with you that the criminal charges being levied against Catalan politicians seem mostly unfounded (some of the lesser ones, like disobeying a court mandate, may well end up sticking though), and that their imprisonment is excessive and unjust, but I insist that that's not really up to the Spanish government, but to overzealous judges/courts. That these judges/courts are puppets of the government is something I don't believe, and I think there's plenty of evidence against it.
  12. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    They'll presumably invest him today, as CUP have announced they will abstain (not surprisingly, as Torra is a hard-line independence supporter, and has been kissing up to them as much as he can). It will still be an extremely close thing (66 for, 65 against and 4 abstentions). I must say, I'm no fan of Torra. The continuation of the conflict with the Spanish state will be his main agenda, with no attempt to de-escalate. I truly thought Rajoy was offering a (modest) olive branch by not appealing the delegated vote of Puigdemont and Comín and assuring that he would cease the intervention of Catalan autonomy the moment a government was elected, regardless of what he thought of said government (and resisting pressure from Ciudadanos to do otherwise, despite the polls saying they're poaching their electorate). Anyway, Torra has announced that his presidency will be an interim affair until the restitution of Puigdemont as the legitimate president (God knows if this is feasible). It leaves Catalan politics in a continuing state of flux and instability, but I guess a perception that things have settled down and returned to 'business as usual' would be a death knell to the independence movement, so they're trying to avoid it at all costs.
  13. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    The Government can request the Constitutional Court judge if a law or legal disposition adheres to the Constitution or not, and to suspend the application of said law if they think their case has merit (so can the Catalan Parliament, mind you, and it has in many occasions when it considered the Spanish government over-limited its attributions). The PP government recently modified the law to allow the Constitutional Court to fine those who don't abide by its rulings. The members of the Court themselves weren't too happy about this (and apply it sparingly). I agree that, recently, the Constitutional Court (after criticising the government in several occasions for not being able to find a political solution to this crisis) has 'taken upon itself' to play a political role in the Catalan secession challenge. Many of its recent rulings show this. This is something that can be criticized (both the Court deciding to do this and the government abdicating its responsibilities so that the Court was put in this position), though I feel they weren't given much of a choice. Most all Spanish institutions, amongst them the King, consider the secession challenge a crisis of the State, and think something must be done about it. I think in this case the Constitutional Court felt this duty should fall to the Government and it should be resolved through political means, but the Government proved unwilling or unable (or both...) to do it, and the hot potato fell on the Court's lap. Though their interests might be basically aligned, though, the agency of the Constitutional Court is not identical to that of the government (it might care for the unity of Spain, but it doesn't care how well the PP will fare in the next election, for instance). The Constitutional Court never rules over criminal cases and can't put people in prison (preventive or otherwise). All this is done by the Criminal Courts (the members of which are not chosen by the government or parliament). I personally disagree with a lot of their rulings, but again, I think accusations of collusion must be substantiated in order to be taken seriously. I feel right now, the goal of the government is a return to normalcy, and the goal of the pro-secession parties is to avoid this (as it would be seen as 'giving up'). That's why, despite there being many other available candidates, they refuse to nominate someone who isn't in exile or prison. They say they're tired of Spanish intervention, but they refuse to take what would be a relatively easy way out. This means there's no end in sight to the conflict.
  14. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    The Government of Spain is in full interventionist mode, and is currently trying to force a 'return to normalcy' by whatever means possible. As I said in a previous post, it's ignoring issues of legality when it has to, which is troubling (but something both sides in this conflict seem to resort to when they consider it serves their best interest). Whether it's what they should be doing or not is a matter of opinion (there are quite a few Spaniards who consider the government has been excessively lenient and thus ineffectual), but the government itself seems pretty convinced. I personally agree with the goal, though not with the means (especially because some of the people who are in prison are held preventively on extremely flimsy grounds). The lack of independence of the Spanish justice system is a recurrent sound bite of people who favour independence, and not one I agree with. Members of the Constitutional Court (which judges exclusively laws and legal dispositions, but never people, and is not strictly a part of the justice system) are elected by 2/3 of the Parliament, but once elected its members can't be removed, and it has a long history of finding against the government in important cases. The Catalan secessionist challenge may be legitimate from a democratic point of view, but it's most certainly contrary to the constitution. It's ridiculous to expect the court would find any other way than what it has. The imprisonment of certain Catalan politicians and activist on extremely flimsy grounds is something I don't agree with from a legal or moral standpoint, but I disagree that it was instigated by the government (often it has happened at times that were extremely inconvenient from a political point of view, and has just added fuel to the fire and been in detriment of the governments efforts to return to a normal political scenario). Judges are generally conservative, and always very defensive of the law and constitution, and quite a lot of Spaniards are very weary of and opposed to the Catalan secessionist movement. It's no surprise to me that they have been extremely harsh. Undue influence by the government and collusion is an allegation that needs some kind of proof. Pretending that a decision (or number of decisions) by a judge that we don't agree with proves that the justice system isn't independent is flawed logic.
  15. Mentat

    Catalan thread continued

    Spanish press is still rather sceptical about it this (which doesn't mean it won't happen...). The Spanish government has declared that it will not cease the region's intervention if they elect a president who is currently in jail, and ERC doesn't seem totally on board with the idea (though they're trying to keep the negotiations under wraps, so it's hard to say for sure). One also has to question the suitability of the candidate. Though he's a professor of political science, he has no previous experience in government and hasn't been a member of any of the major parties in Catalan politics until his inclusion in Junts per Catalunya's list for the most recent regional elections (as an independent, and, in my opinion, mainly for the shock value of his imprisonment and the strong social rejection of said imprisonment by most Catalans).
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