Monday, October 06, 2003

Well, the Israelis hit back hard this time, bombing a terrorist training camp in Syria. The Vangua is screaming that this is a "flagrant violation of international law". It may be, I don't know, but international law is only applicable when the state it applies to gives its consent voluntarily or is forced to consent through war or other threats. Seems to me that the original violation of the norms of decency, the original casus belli, was Syria's allowing terrorists to set up training camps in Syrian territory. You're not allowed to do that anymore.

See, in the old days, back when there was a Soviet Union, we couldn't go around attacking Syria whenever they deserve it, which is frequently. The Sovs would have rattled their nuclear football at the first sight of a F-15 and we'd have backed down. Now there are no Sovs to rattle anything. This leads to the question of how far sovereignty goes.

Well, sovereignty realistically belongs to he who can proclaim it and defend it. In effect, that means countries with nuclear weapons; those states are effectively free from attack or invasion. If your country is forced to make policy by external pressure, then you're not really sovereign, and if you can't defend yourself against anyone who threatens your sovereignty, you're not really sovereign, either.

Since all countries are equal but some countries are a hell of a lot more equal than others, the ten or fifteen states that are really sovereign effectively dominate all the others, to a greater or lesser degree. Up until now we have paid lip service to an absolute right to sovereignty while really violating many other countries' self-government. Now it's time we started to say, "Look, we'll respect your right to self-determination as long as you're not promoting violence inside or outside your country. If you're doing that, we can stop you." That's what we saw happening in the Yugoslav Wars, we saw it with Afghanistan and Iraq, and we're seeing it in West Africa (and we're going to see a lot more of it from there).

The Israeli attack on Syria is saying "You do not have the right to harbor individuals and groups who are committing or planning violence against us." All I can say is: absolutely right.

La Vanguardia continues to be meek and mild as a newborn lamb. There was nothing even slightly offensive except for the continued presence of plagiarists Serra and Ramos on their payroll. It looks to me as such non-idiotarian regular writers as Nadal, Castells, Alvaro, and Hernandez Puertolas have gotten together with the few anti-idiotarians (Monzo, Sala i Martin) and said, "Look, this America-bashing crap is not serious and unworthy of a newspaper with any sort of reputation to uphold. And let Porcel write his soul-of-the-Mediterranean literary crap without getting into any subject he doesn't know anything about, which is everything but said soul-of-the Mediterranean literary crap."

They're giving a lot of space to Convergence and Union's Artur Mas and the Socialists' Pasqual Maragall, who had a head-to-head debate in the Vangua's offices which they are publishing complete, several pages a day. Damn, is it ever boring. The deal is this. Maragall is going wild, flailing out of control, saying whatever comes into his mind. Mas is a lightweight, confining himself to saying what his advisers tell him to. Convergence and Union, however, is generally not an offensive political party, though it has an occasional Cataloony knee-jerk reaction to words like "asymmetrical federalism" and "self-autonomous self-determination" and "goddamn Andalusians". I have only three problems with them, the aforesaid occasional Cataloony brain spasms, the way they pass out as much pork as they can in the small towns and rural areas they control (of course, the Socialists portion out the pork from the many municipal governments they control, including the biggest, Barcelona, Hospitalet, Badalona, Sabadell, Santa Coloma...) and the fact that they never come anywhere near balancing the Generalitat's budget. (The Generalitat is, of course, Catalonia's autonomous regional government. The literal translation would be "autonomous community".) The Socialists talk a lot bigger than they act but they're not really all that bad if you don't mind a little corruption, not that you wouldn't get the same with any Spanish political party. The problem with them is that they'd be likely to make a post-election alliance with the Communists and the Republican Left (both of whom are undesirables), like the one that's currently governing Barcelona.

So Catalan regional elections are coming up on November 16, and as usual the only parties who will win seats are the Socialists, Initiative (Communists) and the Republican Left on the left and Convergence and Union and the People's Party on the right. The question is whether Socialist former BCN mayor Pasqual Maragall will beat Convergence's Artur Mas, the heir to the Generalitat's only prime minister ever, Jordi Pujol. Though Catalonia is a Socialist stronghold--in the general and municipal elections the Socialists get by far the most votes, and in regional elections Convergence only wins because rural areas' representation in the Catalan parliament is overly weighted--the Socialists have never held the regional government.

This is because you only get to vote for three things in Spain, if you discount the widely-held-useless European elections. Every four years municipal elections are held in every municipality in Spain. You vote for the party whose list of candidates you prefer. Around here turnout is pretty good and leftist parties tend to do well in urban areas while Convergence does best in small towns and rural areas. Those already happened back in May, we can forget about them. Then we have regional elections, and those are coming up Nov. 16 here in Catalonia. Turnout is not so high for these, especially leftist non-Catalanist turnout, and nationalist parties, Convergence and the Republican Left, tend to do comparatively better than the non-nationalist parties. Then we have general elections, for which campaigning has effectively already begun; they are to be held in March. Here the nationalist parties turn out to do worse than the nationally-based parties, the conservative People's Party and the Socialists. The turnout is the highest for any of the three types of elections.

I still think that if I were the PP I'd call surprise snap general elections to coincide with the Catalan regional elections on Nov. 16. All the polls--the Periodico had one yesterday--give Rajoy a seven- or eight-point lead over Zap in the generals. Rajoy's press honeymoon is still going full swing. Zap is an extremely weak Socialist standard-bearer. Cash in those votes while you've got 'em. A coincidence with the Catalan regionals would benefit the PP (because the voters who came out for Rajoy would also vote PP in the regionals), benefit CiU (because the voters who came out for Mas would also vote CiU in the generals, both benefit and hurt the Socialists (benefit= voter turnout for Maragall would also vote for Zap in the generals, damage=voter turnout against Zap likely to vote against Maragall too), and hurt the smaller parties badly (people don't vote for Initiative or the Republican Left in the generals, and that'll lead them to vote for one of the bigger parties as well as in the regionals). Does that make any sense?

Since I support the PP, my favorite opposition party is Convergence because they're also conservative on most issues and nobody really takes that Cataloony stuff that seriously when it's time to deal the cards in the high-stakes poker game of real, non-symbolic politics. I don't mind seeing Convergence do well, since they're effectively in alliance with the PP on everything that doesn't relate to Cataloonieness, which includes most issues of any real importance. I would also prefer to see the Socialists get lefty votes than to see them go to one of the smaller leftist parties.

Put all of this together, and add in the facts that Rajoy is riding high in the polls, that the Socialists are way too disorganized to put a campaign together on such short notice while the PP's strength is its organization and party discipline, and that Rajoy is a sure winner in the generals as long as no disaster happens (e.g. major terrorist attack in Spain, serious attack on Spanish troops in Iraq) and so you want to vote as soon as you can to get the election in before the disaster can happen, and you've got a whole bunch of good reasons to call early general elections to coincide with the Catalan regionals.

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