Zap has promised to get rid of what's called the "patrimony tax," an annual tax on a person's net worth, which only still exists in France and Sweden as well as Spain. It mostly affects about a million upper-middle-class Spanish taxpayers. Sounds good to me, I'm always in favor of cutting taxes as much as possible, and this is a clear case of a tax on personal capital, capital that would otherwise be invested in something productive.
One reason Zap can get away with this is that he's run another budget surplus, which is also always a good thing when possible. However, he can get away with running a surplus because Spain's defense budget is about twenty-three cents; Spain is effectively a protectorate of NATO, it can't defend itself against anyone except maybe Morocco.
I slightly botched the story on the unconstitutionality of the Generalitat law that would allow the government to force owners of vacant apartments to rent them out. It wasn't the Spanish Constitutional Court that declared it unconstitutional, it was the Catalan equivalent, the Consell de Garanties Estatutàries de la Generalitat de Catalunya (formerly the Consell Consultiu).
La Vanguardia's Latin America correspondent, Joaquim Ibarz, is more anti-Chavez than anyone else in the world press. He hates Chavez even more than Andy Robinson hates the United States. I completely agree with him, of course. Ibarz was the guy who reported, several days before the referendum, that the surveys pointed at a No vote.
His lead this morning is, "Hugo Chavez, the omnipotent caudillo who insulted and threatened the entire world on Friday, died when he was defeated in Sunday's plebiscite, though he doesn't see it that way....He is left with no strength to impose his plans, without the capacity to subvert the continent." Right on!
Ibarz says: 1) The Chav lost because a lot of the working class voted against him. 2) There was a lot of attempted vote fraud. 3) It was the university students and General Raul Baduel who did the most to defeat the Chav. 4) On Sunday night, the Chav met for four hours with army leaders who refused to back him in a seizure of power. 5) The electoral board kicked opposition poll watchers out of the vote-counting premises. 6) So Baduel went on national television and warned the electoral board that there had better be no shenanigans. So there weren't. 7) Opposition leaders claim that the election result was rigged and that the No vote won by a lot more than the official 51%.
Another Ibarz quote: "By losing the plebiscite that should have perpetuated him in power, Chavez has been greatly weakened. Spanish companies can breathe easier. Chavez won't easily be able to threaten to kick them out of the country again. Venezuela is on the verge of economic collapse, and any irresponsible measure could set it off. Waste, inefficiency, and corruption have reached the point that the government was not able to reduce the great scarcity of vital staple foods--meat, milk, sugar, eggs, flour--during the referendum campaign. With the highest inflation in Latin Amerioa--despite price and currency exchange controls--and with the collapse of industrial and agricultural production due to the harassment of businessmen, the social situation will get worse after Christmas."
Ibarz thinks Chavez is politically dead, that since he is a lame duck who will now have to give up power at the end of this term, his supporters are looking to cut deals with anyone who is willing. The Supreme Court will be under weaker pressure to decide what the Chav wants them to decide. Ibarz predicts that Chavezites will badly lose the August 2008 regional and local elections.
Meanwhile, it's pretty clear that Putin rigged the Russian election; Germany, Austria, Great Britain, and the US have all complained, though at different volumes. The German government spokesman said, "Russia was not a democracy and it is not a democracy. According to our standards, these were not free, equal, and democratic elections. The result is not surprising if we look at the considerable limitations imposed on the opposition and on the freedoms of speech and the press." That's the way to tell 'em.