Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Spanish general election campaign is officially under way. The Catalan Socialists struck first with a genius idea: they've come out with their own Socialist perfume, which will be sold for one euro a bottle at Socialist rallies. So you know it must be real high quality stuff. This appears to have been a brainstorm of Carmen Chacón, the young airhead at the top of the PSC's Barcelona list. Manuela de Madre, a competent PSC machine politician and a self-made woman, was in charge of the unveiling of the product, and she admitted it was "a little bit silly." Not a bad publicity stunt, but no more than that; this is not the kind of move that impresses people with your seriousness.

The perfume's smell has been compared to air freshener and insecticide in the local press. The British media has also picked up on this one.

The PP did do something serious: they signed up Manuel Pizarro as their prospective economics minister, and he will run second to Rajoy on the PP's Madrid list. Pizarro is the former president of electric utility Endesa and of the Madrid stock market; when he was in charge of Endesa, he doubled the company's market value. He is closely associated with Rodrigo Rato, Aznar's old economics minister who went off to run the IMF.

The choice of Pizarro makes it clear that the PP is giving up on Catalonia, and is only hoping to bring out its hardcore voters here instead of trying to win the center. Pizarro is unpopular among Barcelona's business community, since he helped torpedo the deal through which Barcelona-based Gas Natural (partly owned by Catalan savings bank giant La Caixa) would have taken over Endesa.

More evidence: The PP is hammering hard on the nationalism issue both here and in the rest of Spain, blasting the current Catalan laws that discriminate against Spanish-speakers. There is a sizable anti-Catalan vote in the rest of Spain, and they are working their hardest to bring it out. Within Catalonia, this will only appeal to those who already sympathize with the PP. They won't get more than their usual 15% ceiling here; the latest surveys do show them picking up one or two seats in Catalonia, but they'd only go from 6 to 7 or 8.

My favorite Cataloony, Pilar Rahola--she's very solid on almost every other issue, and she's pro-US, pro-Israel, and anti-terrorist, but her blind spot is Catalan independence--has a piece in La Vanguardia blasting the FARC and Hugo Chavez for this business of releasing a couple of their 500 hostages. She says, "Those who are selling the most reactionary Latin American demagogy have won, those whose noise drowns out the words of the reasonable leftist leaders who also exist on the continent. The intellectuals of leftist hatred have won, those who only differ from right-wing hatred because the flags in which they wrap themselves seem more attractive." She praises Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, calling him "one of the best leaders in the entire region."

The crisis in the Barcelona hospital emergency rooms continues, with ambulances stacked up outside them waiting until the staff can get around to looking at them. There's a bad flu epidemic going on, and it's killing the weaker of the old folks. Hospital deaths are 25% higher than normal.

The bus drivers, whipped up to go on strike by the Trotskyist union CGT, and the city have been negotiating. They got nowhere; the CGT is unwilling to compromise. Even the Socialist UGT and Communist CCOO unions are against the strike.

They had a contest to write some lyrics for the Spanish national anthem, and some unemployed guy from like Albacete won. Let's just say that the new words aren't any better than those of any other national anthem, and considerably worse than the Marsellaise. By the way, the US could really use a new anthem, and I've always supported "This Land Is Your Land," by Woody Guthrie, even though he was a goddamn Communist. The tune is easily singable and the words make sense, unlike the one we have now. My second choice would probably be "Free Bird."

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