Sunday, December 21, 2003

Back to politics. Socialist Pasqual Maragall has assumed office as prime minister of the Generalitat, the Catalan autonomous regional government. He had to pay a price, of course: his allies the Republican Left got the Cabinet posts of "chief of staff" and three others, and Communists Initiative for Catalonia got two Cabinet seats. Now we'll see what happens.

First, nothing much is going to change, I don't think. I doubt that after four years of Maragall in the Generalitat our lives will be very different. Now, Maragall's priorities ought to be more or less balancing the Generalitat's budget (with some large cuts in the Department of Culture, preferably), improving the efficiency of Generalitat relations with the central government and the various local mayors in order to get things done faster and more efficiently, administrating the end of the educational "reforma" and the changeover to something more like the old system (they adopted dumb American ed school ideas. It failed. Aznar and the PP shot it down), and investigating several prominent members of Convergence and Union to find out where the skeletons are buried.

His priorities should not be wasting everybody's time jabbering about unnecessary and dangerous constitutional reform, taking the part of one extreme wing or the other in the Catalan culture wars, spending jillions of euros on poorly planned megaprojects, dissing the Americans, trying to imitate the Basques, or complaining about Catalonia's "fiscal deficit".

(Note: this is one of the most common themes of Catalan nationalists. It seems that some people have determined that Catalonia as a whole pays a lot more money in taxes than it receives in the form of government spending, though none of their figures have ever convinced me. The reason is obvious: Catalonia is one of the two or three richest regions in Spain, and so many people with high incomes pay high income taxes. Also, many companies are based here, and they pay big money in taxes, too. Finally, since Catalonia is richer than average, consumption is higher than average, too, and so the state gets more money per capita in VAT in Catalonia than it does in the rest of the country.

My opinion is that the Catalanists are guilty of a fallacy. They are confusing Catalonia as an entity with Catalans as individuals. You can make the argument that, per capita, individual Catalans tend to pay more in taxes than they get back in government services, but that's because as individuals they are high-income and a lot of government spending goes to lower-income areas. If Catalans lived anywhere else in Spain, assuming their income was the same, they'd pay the same amount of taxes. So individual Catalans are not discriminated against, taxistically, for being Catalans. They are discriminated against for being richer than average. I thought that's what a nice solidarious leftist welfare state is supposed to do. It's called progressive taxation. As for government services, according to Mariano Rajoy in La Vanguardia, the PP central government has raised spending in Catalonia to 16% of government spending in Spain. That's about the percentage of Catalans in the population of Spain, so I don't see how anyone can deny that the central government divides up its spending fairly.)

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar flew to Iraq on Saturday to visit the troops there. The left is accusing him of imitating Bush and is making wisecracks about the new European media meme of the alleged plastic turkey. Says Socialist heavy hitter Jose Blanco,

(Aznar's) American-style visit to Iraq shows that he is following Bush's and his interests' style of conduct, which is bad and shameful. (This model) of imitating Bush has led us to an illegitimate war without the permission of the United Nations and which was declared on the basis of false arguments...The world today is more unsafe and there are thousands of innocent lives who are victims of this decision; it is unacceptable for Azanar to follow step by step the instructions of the President of the United States.

Blanco is an idiot, obviously, but an awful lot of people around here believe him.

I had an unpleasant incident in one of the local bars, the Barracuina on Joan Blanques, last night, in which I was harassed for being American. One gentleman kindly informed me that he hated all Yankees and another taunted me with shouts of "Heil Hitler!" and Nazi salutes. I did not punch anybody. Most people around here are pretty decent. These guys were jerks.

The other media meme going around is that, of course, Saddam's capture was some kind of dirty trick. See, nothing can be as it appears because Bush and the Americans are bad people who always lie. So, obviously, Saddam's capture was a setup in order to help Bush in the polls. Exactly how or why it was a setup is still something I'm not very clear about, but we'll let that ride. There's a cartoon in the Vanguardia today showing Bush dressed like a cowboy playing golf and talking on his cell-phone, in which Bush says, "Hold off on capturing Bin Laden until a month before the elections."

Well, the defeat and capture of Saddam has had one positive effect at least; the Libyans are giving up their WMD. The Brits are saying that Qaddafi was close to an atomic bomb. Libya had been recently busted by the Americans for trying to import missiles from, you guessed it, North Korea.

The Vangua runs some interesting stats on Catalonia. One-fourth of our education spending goes to subsidizing private schools. Unemployment in the third quarter of 2003 was 9.2%. Per capita monthly income is 1620 euros. Housing costs double the Spanish average in Barcelona. 5.1% of Catalans are immigrants from foreign countries. Catalonia produces 18.4% of Spain's GDP. Our GDP per capita is 101% of the European Union average.

So far the Vangua has published a total of zero letters to the editor on the capture of Saddam.

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