Thursday, February 21, 2008

Interior minister Perez Rubalcaba announced today that he believes that ETA will attempt a bombing sometime before the March 9 election. He has put the security forces on maximum anti-terrorist alert level, and is not ruling out the possibility of an Islamist terror attack, either.

I will point out that the last time we had a general election in Spain Al Qaeda blew up three trains and killed 191 people three days before; the citizenry reacted by voting out the tough-on-Islamism PP and installing Zap, who instantly did what the terrorists wanted and withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq; Al Qaeda learned that massive terrorist attacks work in Spain; and we know that Zap's gesture did not give Spain an insurance policy against further Islamic attacks.

The European Commission predicts that Spain's GDP will increase by 2.7% this year, while inflation will be 3.7%, meaning we're facing a slight real decline in household income. Eurozone countries are expected to grow at a 1.8% rate, and the EU as a whole by 2%. Consumer confidence in Spain is down, household spending has plateaued, and savings are up. The real estate market is way down, and the construction sector has greatly slowed, meaning higher unemployment. Good sign: Capital goods investment was 8.6% in the fourth quarter of 2007. Also, with less household spending, the trade deficit will get smaller, as much of Spain's imports are consumer goods.

More complaining about Barcelona's El Prat airport: Iberia has made an offer for its competitor Spanair, which is owned by SAS. If the sale goes through, Iberia will control about 50% of all passenger traffic, and 70% of domestic passenger traffic, at El Prat. La Vanguardia says, "If Iberia buys Spanair, the subordination of El Prat to Madrid Barajas, where the ex-monopoly has centralized its intercontinental flights, will be almost absolute, since the ex-monopoly has made it clear on many occasions that its priority is to strengthen Madrid's infrastructure."

People, it's the market. There will only be more flights in and out of Barcelona if Barcelona can provide more passengers for them. If not, then not. Enough whining about Madrid being favored.

Catalan premier Montilla says that if the Iberia purchase goes through, he'll challenge it on antitrust grounds. Fair enough, that's what the competition tribunal is there for, but they're going to lose because Iberia isn't stopping (and can't stop) any other airline from introducing passenger routes to compete with it.

The Spanish election campaign officially begins tonight at midnight, though of course everyone's been campaigning for months. The PSOE's slogan, along with a picture of Rajoy, Zaplana, and Acebes dressed up like the mobsters in Reservoir Dogs, is "If you don't go (to vote), they'll come back." This means that they're running a purely negative campaign, that they believe the PP is most vulnerable over the March 11 bombing and the Iraq war and so they're going to run against that again, and that they think that Socialist turnout will be low, so they're focusing on bringing out their own grass roots instead of trying to win votes in the center.

CiU's running a negative campaign, too, with the slogan, "They'll respect Catalonia (if we win)." Their newspaper ads have fuzzy photos of Zap along with a bunch of his quotations promising things he didn't do, which I suppose means that Zap is not sufficiently respectful. What I'd like to know is how exactly CiU plans to force everyone to "respect Catalonia," whatever that means.

I'm going to take a fairly wild guess here: I think the PP is going to do better than expected. Zap's not very popular, he hasn't really changed things very much, they're running a negative campaign, turnout is going to be low, and the Catalans are really pissed off at the Socialists. The PP's biggest problem is Rajoy's negatives, which are very high.

By the way, thanks to Gates of Vienna for linking to us; they have a piece over there on the Spanish election.

They did another international educational study, this time called Perls, analyzing ten-year-olds' reading comprehension. Russia and Hong Kong scored at the top, over 560 points; Italy, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Flanders, and Denmark scored between about 544 and 552; the US scored 540, and England 538, followed by Scotland and France in the 520s, then Poland, then Spain at 514. The average of the 39 countries surveyed was 510; Wallonia and Norway both scored below 500, with Morocco and South Africa way down there in the low 300s.

The percentage of students with a "low or very low" level of reading comprehension was: 7% in Hong Kong, 8% in the Netherlands, 13% in Germany, 18% in the United States, 22% in England, 24% in France, 28% in Spain, 33% in Norway, and an appalling 91% in Morocco.

The United States scored considerably better than I'd expected; the English, French, and Spanish have one more reason now to stop thinking we're all stupid. I imagine these results are a product of the great improvement in school choice and the proliferation of standardized tests. Yeah, I know the teachers "teach to the test," but at least they're teaching something, and teaching to the test doesn't work if the kids don't already know how to read.

Speaking of thinking we're all stupid, check out this rather patronizing quote from La Vanguardia on Pau Gasol's reception in Los Angeles:

Surprise. At almost ten thousand kilometers away from Barcelona, and despite the stereotypes about the geographical ignorance of the Americans, they know us. "At the front door of the arena," explained Mata (a Catalan in LA who showed up with a Catalan flag), "the security guard asked me, 'Is that a Basque or a Catalan flag?'"

Oh, yeah, you remember the "United States Threatens Earth" headline in Publico a few days ago? Turns out they blew up the satellite as planned, with no problems. By the way, despite the alarmism of professional alarmists, no one has ever been injured, much less killed, by space junk falling to earth, and they figure it's a million-to-one chance: that you're much more likely to be struck by lightning than hit by space junk.

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