Friday, November 16, 2007

There's a good bit of indignation in Spain about Hugo the Chav's anti-Spanish rhetoric, calling Spain imperialist and arrogant and bashing the country's leaders. All I can say is that Latin American populist rhetoric bullshit stinks whether it is applied to the United States or to Spain, and this week a lot of it has been sprayed Spain's way. Spain doesn't like it. Welcome to the club, guys.

Chav update: He told French television that he's going to start a Venezuelan niclear program "for peaceful purposes," and added that he supports the Iranian nuke program.

News: 16 Madrid civil servants have been arrested for taking bribes in exchange for granting business licenses. If you remember our post from a few days ago on Spain's competitiveness problems, you won't be surprised to learn that if you don't bribe somebody, it'll take you three years to get a business license in downtown Madrid. No wonder these guys were raking it in. This is a story of medium importance in most of the Spanish media, but last night it was the top domestic politics story on TV3. Because playing this up makes Madrid look bad, of course.

Supposedly, tomorrow one of the three Renfe commuter lines that are down because of the Great Barcelona Transport Snafu is going to come back on line, though with fewer trains than normal. The line affected runs to Bellvitge, Castelldefels, Sitges, and Vilanova. I hope there isn't some kind of disaster. The line to the airport is still down.

Silly demonstration of the week: They got 3500 university students out yesterday in order to protest against the Bologna Process, a multinational European plan to standardize the post-high school university system. According to the EU (note the mediocre English: "why European higher education systems must be modernized ?"), this is why:

1) European higher education is fragmented into (what are often) small national systems and sub-systems, without effective links and bridges between them;
2) National regulations are too often over-detailed, and this diminishes universities’ responsiveness to changing learning and research needs emerging from markets and society;
3) Europe’s universities have a tendency to uniformity within each system/subsystem which has led to a good average level, but has limited access and failed to enable enough world-class research;
4) Universities under-use the knowledge they produce because they and business still inhabit largely separate worlds;
5) Many universities are insufficiently prepared for the coming competition for students, researchers and resources in an increasingly globalising world.
6) Most importantly, funding for universities is far too low compared to our major competitors, both in education and in research, due mainly to much smaller contributions from private sources.
7) Furthermore, access rates to higher education are still lower in Europe than in many other leading world regions.

So, of course, the students are protesting because they claim a college degree will cost more, and because, get this, they'll have to work harder, with 40 hours a week between classes and individual study. Oh, no, how tragic, 40 hours of education time a week. When I was in college I put in 60 hours many weeks, and that wasn't unusual. There were a lot of people who worked harder than I did. The government says that they'll give out student loans to those who need them; the protesting students say such loans would "mortgage their futures."

What this was really all about was simply an excuse for the Perennially Indignant, made up largely of what are euphemistically called around here "older students" (that is, those who never go to class, fail repeatedly, and hang around campus occupying places that could be used by real students who have plans to graduate one day), to hold a big old demo and bitch about the system in general. There were quite a few red flags and even more independentista ones.

Ridiculous demonstration number two: In order to protest against global warming (which may not exist, and if it exists it may not be caused by humans, and if it is caused by humans it is also not nearly as big a problem as the lack of democracy and the rule of law), the Generalitat, the Barcelona city government, and the Catalan parliament turned off all their electricity last night between 8 and 8:05 PM, and encouraged citizens to do the same. In Madrid, the Congress, several ministries, and the PSOE headquarters joined in. Nobody paid any attention except for a few hippies and a Commie or two, of course. Red Electrica said that electrical consumption did not decline noticeably during the attempted protest.

A Spanish consortium has made an offer to buy Iberia, Spain's largest airline, for about €3.5 billion. The consortium's leader is Gala Capital, which belongs to the wealthy Koplowitz, Jove, and del Pino families, and which would own 51% of the shares. Other members are the owner of Air Europa and a group of savings banks led by the Basque BBK. Other offers are in the works. Iberia stock climbed 4.6% yesterday.

The price of milk has gone up 24% in the last three months. Dairy farmers get 46 eurocents a liter in Spain, compared to 36 in Germany and 30 in France. There's a worldwide shortage due to below-normal production in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina, causing higher prices. The 30% increase in the price of grain doesn't help, either. In addition, Spain has cut back production by a million tons a year in order to meet EU norms.

Sports update: Barry Bonds, the world's best baseball player during the last 20 years, has been indicted by the federal government for perjury in the Balco doping scandal. He's going to jail. This is a big deal; imagine if, say, Ronaldo or Zidane was going to the slam for doing illegal performance-enhancing drugs and for lying about it to a grand jury. It's the second federal indictment of a major athlete this year, since Atlanta's star quarterback, Michael Vick, pleaded guilty to federal charges of running a dog-fighting gambling operation. He's going to jail, too.

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