Wednesday, January 09, 2008

One of the two etarras (Martín Sarasola and Igor Portu) arrested yesterday admitted to being part of the cell that set off the Barajas airport bomb that killed two people. Interior minister Rubalcaba said that the terrorist the cops kicked the crap out of (Portu) had been resisting arrest. The police activity before the arrests apparently rousted two more etarras, named Mikel San Sebastián and José Iturbide, who booked it and are currently on the run. Meanwhile, the Guardia Civil found another ETA explosives cache, this one with 25 kilos.

Sarasola and Portu were also in on several other explosions that did serious property damage but killed no one. Their main job, though, was to serve as couriers of explosives and weapons to and from different ETA cells. They were what is called in Spanish police jargon "legales," that is, they had no police record and lived apparently ordinary lives with day jobs. Most terrorists that are arrested are "liberados," that is, known to the police and living undercover.

These dirtbags' plan was to set off a car bomb in the Azca shopping district of Madrid, which would undoubtedly have killed dozens of people if it had been carried out. I hope the cops were no more gentle with these guys than absolutely necessary.

No decisions will be made about the controversial high-speed train (AVE) tunnel, which is to connect Sants central station and the new train station in La Sagrera under the city, before the March 9 general election. It is supposed to run under Calle Mallorca, which will cause it to pass by the Sagrada Familia. A fuss is being kicked up by preservationists, who fear that the Gaudí temple (NOT cathedral, there's only one in a city and ours is downtown) may be endangered by the underground work. Your typical Luddites have joined in, as have those semi-fringe political parties who will sign on to oppose anything anybody's against.

Zap is passing out more free money. "Youths," persons under 30, will receive a 210 euros a month subsidy if they are renting an apartment, do not already own one, and have assets under €108,000. In addition, they get a no-interest €600 loan to pay the deposit. This is not pie-in-the-sky, they're already distributing the dough, just like they did with the payments to couples who have a child.

This is, of course, blatant age discrimination. The government's rationale is to help young people "emancipate themselves," that is, move out of their parents' house. I'm not sure why people under 30 deserve a subsidy and people over 30 don't, if they're living in the same economic conditions. If this were a subsidy to help poor people of any age pay their rent, I'd see the point, but that ain't what this is.

Merrill Lynch says that Spanish housing prices are in full decline, that housing starts are way down, and that credit has tightened up. They predict 2008 economic growth to be 2.5% in Spain, which is still good though not what we've seen in the last decade or so. They also predict the BCE will not raise interest rates until this summer, and so the government elected in March should cut taxes in order to increase disposable income and consumer spending. They say the average 2008 oil price will likely be about $82 a barrel, and that food prices around the world will continue to rise.

The logic behind this measure is that rents are really high in Spain, averaging €1000 (that's $1500, don't forget) a month in Barcelona. This is because the tenants' rights laws are so restrictive that nobody who doesn't absolutely need the money now rents out his empty place. (Also, it's much harder to sell a place that's occupied by renters, and during the recent housing bubble a lot of people were holding on to places waiting for the market to peak in order to sell. The market peaked in summer 2006. If I'm right about this, then rental prices should drop as more people decide to sell and more places come on the market.)

Portuguese author and darling of the left José Saramago is in the hospital and is so old that he's probably going to die. I'm sure he's a perfectly decent human being, and we wish him no ill will, but I don't like his writing or his politics. In fact, I think they both suck.

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