Friday, February 29, 2008

The Iraqis are going to hang Chemical Ali. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. If I were the hangman I'd set the drop for about fifteen feet.

The Prince Harry in Afghanistan story is being played up big here. As a good American, I'm a republican with a small r, though there are many systems of government much more obnoxious than democratic constitutional monarchies. Still, I have to give the guy some credit, since he didn't have to go out there if he didn't want to; he's shown an admirable sense of duty. Now that his presence is known, of course, they're going to have to pull him out, since he's now the Taliban and Al Qaeda's number one target, a magnet for terrorist attacks.

ETA set off a small bomb--three kilos of amonal--last night at Socialist headquarters in the Bilbao suburb of Derio; material damage was done, but fortunately no one got hurt.

The five leading candidates on each party's list for Barcelona (Carmen Chacon of the PSC, Josep Antoni Duran Lleida for CiU, Joan Ridao of ERC, Dolors Nadal of the PP, and Joan Herrera of ICV) are going to debate tonight on TV3 at 10 PM; I'll try to blog at least some of it.

Socialist former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez called Rajoy "a lazy imbecile." I never cease to be amazed by the things Spanish politicians call one another. During the first Zap-Rajoy debate they called one another liars about twenty times, and on the stump they accuse one another of being unpatriotic patsies of terrorists or reactionary anti-democratic Fascists. American politics can get pretty nasty, but Bush and Obama and McCain and Kerry don't talk like that. One reason they don't talk like that is that they accept that their opponent is basically honest and operating in good faith.

Inflation for the year ending in February was 4.4%. La Vanguardia ran a list of economic statistics: Unemployment is 8.6%. The trade deficit is €22.2 billion. 2007 GDP was €1.05 trillion, or about $1.6 trillion; the national debt is €379 billion, or 32.6% of GDP. The 2007 budget surplus was 2.2%.

Meanwhile, Spanish stock market heavyweight Telefonica was the most profitable telecoms operator in the world last year, with total profits above €9 billion.

Spain's highways are the most dangerous in Western Europe, with 7 deaths per billion vehicle-kilometers traveled. That's worse than everybody but Hungary and Slovenia, at over 8 deaths / bn. vehicle-km. The rest of the list: Portugal 7; Italy and Czech Republic 6; Belgium and Norway 5; Austria 4; Israel, Finland, Germany, and Ireland 3; France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Sweden 2. That's right, our roads are three-and-a-half times as dangerous as England's.

Water is becoming an issue, with the long drought and the ban on lawn-watering, car-washing, and pool-refilling. Now they're reporting that the equivalent of 8% of Barcelona's daily water use is wasted through leaks in the system. La Vanguardia is mad at the Montilla administration for not having bothered to do anything about this until they had to contract out for water to be brought in by tanker. Meanwhile, Rajoy has brought up the damn water plan again as a campaign issue. He says if he gets elected there will be enough water for everybody. Yeah, well, if I get elected there will be free beer for everybody.

The damn bus drivers are going out on strike all next week, thereby snarling up the city the week before the general election. The municipal bus company says that meeting the strikers' demands would cost €35 million a year, and the only way they can get those funds is by tapping into tax money or raising ticket prices.

La Vanguardia has given pages three and four of their international section to Alarmist Andy Robinson again. Andy's all worked up over the Arctic ice melting, and charges that the evil oil companies are behind it because it'll be easier to drill for petroleum if there's not any ice. He says, "This new struggle for energy resources is reminiscent of the infamous struggle for Africa in the 19th century." Uh, Andy, the problem with Africa is that there were already people living there who were brought under European control against their will. How many people live on the Arctic pack ice?

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