Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bad news from the US for the Spanish economy: Wholesale prices were up 1.1% in March. Inflation in the US means more inflation in Spain, and we're already close to 5% over the last year.

There is a great deal of concern in Spain about the sharp increase in grain prices (up 80% since 2005), since Spain is an exporter of vegetables and fruits but an importer of cereals. The grain price rise is because of bad harvests in 2007 in Australia and South America, growth in India and China, the sharp hike in oil prices (as oil is necessary to process and transport grain), and the use of grain to make fuel. Of course, increased grain prices mean increased meat and dairy prices as well, since farm animals eat grain too.

And the people who are hurt worst by food price inflation are, of course, the poor of the world, since they spend a much greater proportion of their incomes on food than wealthier people do. Methinks that Europe's Enlightened and Illustrated should denounce the selfishness of the oil cartel in limiting production to keep prices high and thus hurting poor folks everywhere. Not gonna happen, though.

Geopolitical point: Most of the OPEC countries don't export anything significant except for oil, so they have to spend the money that they're taking in on food and other necessities, all of which they import. This means that the US, as the world's largest grain exporter, pretty much has the non-grain-producing world over a barrel in the same way that the OPEC countries do; the difference is the Americans don't use food as an economic weapon. Not yet, anyway. The countries that are really going to get squeezed are those that don't produce either energy or grain. Spain, for example.

La Vanguardia's editorial today talks about a possible "food hecatomb," meaning mass starvation. They specifically blame it on using grain to make biofuels, and claim that "staple foods are the objective of international speculative capital." If I didn't know any better I'd say they're blaming it on those damn Jews again. Anyway, they want somebody (the UN security council, specifically) to make everybody else stop converting grain to fuel.

Get their conclusion: "While the United States has always considered grain production as a geostrategic factor, in Europe it has not been so. Here farmers have even been subsidized not to produce it. It is time to change the policy. The Unesco stresses the urgency of changing the rules of world agriculture, which is under the dictates of the large multinational corporations, to the detriment of global well-being."

1) Actually, I don't think the US has ever considered grain production as geostrategic, though that may change 2) the US has also paid farmers not to produce grain 3) "Changing the rules of world agriculture"? That is, putting the Alliance of Civilizations in charge of it instead of the market? 4) "Multinational corporations" dictate everything? Sounds like those damn Jews and Americans one more time. 5) Notice that La Vanguardia does not say one word about the role of oil prices in general and OPEC policy in particular in the high cost of food. It's all the speculative capitalist multinational corporations' fault.

You probably saw Berlusconi got elected for the third time as Italian prime minister. He's a crook, but at least he's a pro-American and pro-NATO crook. Good news: The Commies won zero seats. They got an 80% turnout, which is really high, especially by American standards.

The press is making a big deal out of Carmen Chacon's first review of the troops as Defense minister because she's a pregnant woman and the Army is traditionally very unfond of change. I guess it is sort of a big deal, symbolically, since it stresses that the Army is under civilian control, and Spain was a military dictatorship for four decades and then had a real coup attempt in 1981. However, the army has been substantially reformed and most of the old Franco guys have been retired or dead for years. They haven't seriously interfered in politics since the coup attempt, which was opposed by the great majority of the officers anyway. I doubt they felt humiliated by receiving orders from a woman, since the troops have been taking orders from women noncoms and officers for years now.

The plagiarist Marius Serra records an urban legend / conspiracy theory traveling around the Catalan Internet: the "multinational insurance companies" are flying a squadron of small planes over central Catalonia that are spraying silver sulfate in order to prevent hail, so that they won't have to pay out on their policies, and that the drought is a consequence of this practice. Supposedly three hundred people have seen the planes. Wow. You'd have to be more than abnormally stupid to believe that. Inbreeding in Solsona?

There are a lot of language purists running around claiming that our kids can't write correctly because they use their own jargon, spelling, grammar, etc. in SMSs and e-mails. No, our kids are smart enough to distinguish between two different registers. They just don't know how to write correctly in either of them.

Looks like the goddamn bus drivers and the city have agreed on a last-minute deal and the strike will come to an end. The city caved in: the drivers will get two days off a week, and fewer hours, with no pay cut, and no disciplinary action, even against those guilty of sabotage. The sabotage has continued, though; over the weekend thirty ticket-validating machines were destroyed, and last night nine buses had their tires slashed and a non-striking driver was attacked (they threw red paint all over him). No arrests were made, of course.

I get a lot of Google hits for Isabel Pantoja. Pantoja fans: Her boyfriend Julian Muñoz, accused of stealing everything in Marbella that wasn't nailed down, went back to jail in la Pantoja's car after a three-day furlough presumably spent with his sweetie. Co-conspirator Juan Antonio Roca, charged with extortion, embezzlement, tax fraud, money-laundering, leading an criminal organization, forgery, illegal weapons possession, influence-peddling, and abuse of power, got out of jail on €1 million bail.

Reminds me of a joke: Lincoln had to pay back Pennsylvania Republican party boss Simon Cameron for his crucial support, and he made Cameron his first secretary of war though he knew what Cameron was like. Supposedly one day Lincoln said, "I believe Cameron would steal anything, excepting a hot stove," and a Cameron supporter said, "Take that back," and Lincoln said, "All right, I believe that Cameron would steal anything, including a hot stove."

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