The big political news, which is actually of little importance, is that Zap lost the first vote to be seated as prime minister because he didn't get an absolute majority; only the PSOE deputies voted for him. So what: they'll take another vote on Friday, and this time it's first-past-the-post, which means Zap has to wait two more days.
Rajoy promised to make nice and cooperate on issues of state such as terrorism, which is considerably more responsible than the PP's attitude during much of Zap's first term.
Zap promised to make an official report of the "balanzas fiscales," the amount of money transferred from Catalonia (and the other regions) to the central government in taxes, and the amount of tax money spent in Catalonia (and other regions) by the central government. This is something that the Catalanists have been demanding for years.
On the one hand, it makes complete sense to me that the maximum possible information about tax collection and government spending should be made public, because the public pays the taxes. So I'm in favor.
On the other hand, this demand has always been based on faulty logic: regions don't pay taxes, individuals do. Since Catalonia is a richer-than-average region, the average Catalan pays more taxes than the average Spaniard. Duh.
As for the argument that not enough tax money is spent in Catalonia, okay, that's fair enough. You can make that case. But if that's what you're arguing for, more pork-barrel spending, then just be honest enough to admit it.
And as for the Catalan infrastructural collapse, how much of that is the fault of not enough central government spending, and how much of it is the fault of incompetence by the regional and municipal governments, and irresponsible behavior by certain political parties?
By the way, in the United States this is not an issue. Some states pay out more than they get back, and some states pay out less. Makes sense, right? Half pay out more, half pay out less. Law of averages and all that. Nobody complains about it.
Zap also came out in favor of a Rhone River-Barcelona aqueduct. Somebody should have been working on this ten years ago.
He also promised:
1) a €400 tax refund
2) more public housing
3) to retrain construction workers
4) to help families pay their mortgages
5) more government R&D spending
6) more infrastructure spending
7) to reform the inheritance tax
8) to raise the minimum wage to €800 a month
9) to raise retirement pensions
10) to spend €1.2 billion helping families with dependents (disabled, senile, retarded, etc.)
11) extend paternity leave from 2 to 4 weeks
12) preschool for all children between ages 0 and 3
1 and 7 are reasonable. 6 is not a bad idea if what's to be built is useful, like transport and utilities, but not if it's more big ugly empty buildings (see: Forum). I'm in favor of 9 and 10, since I favor helping out the weakest among us. 12 seems awfully ambitious. You know all the arguments for and against 8. 3 is a complete boondoggle: all job training money is wasted, at least here in Spain.
They're investigating another possible mad-cow death in Alicante. The authorities say there's no danger of an epidemic, and that the victims must have been infected years ago before the regulations were changed. This is exactly the kind of thing we just have to trust the government on. That's what I like about democracy: I have a lot more trust in a government responsible to us than one responsible to nobody. This is Spain, Western Europe, the institutions are more or less honest. If we were in, say, China, I wouldn't believe a word.
Speaking of covering up the truth: Xavier Sala i Martin, the Columbia econ prof and Barça club executive, declared that some players who have not been playing recently are not injured, as the club had announced, but rather benched. He added that the players in question are those who go out at night. This presumably means Ronaldinho and Deco. I don't think it means Messi, I think he's legitimately hurt, and he's expressed a willingness to clean up his act. Meanwhile, Barça plays Schalke tonight in the second leg of their Champions' League semi-final. If they get eliminated the season's basically over, and that might happen if they play the way they did against Getafe. By the way, I watched the Liverpool-Arsenal game last night, and Barça's not as good as either of those teams.
Another judicial screwup: A judge in Andalusia left a man in jail for a year after he had been acquitted of all charges. Sheer incompetence.
The business bankruptcy rate is up nearly 75% in Spain in the first quarter of 2008 over last year. Half of the bankruptcies are in the construction sector. The Expofincas real-estate agency, €23 million in debt, suspended payments yesterday; it's the first big real-estate company to go to the wall.
So La Vanguardia got an interview with the Hispanic (specifically Dominican-American) author, Junot Díaz, who won this year's Pulitzer for best novel. This guy isn't precisely a poet from the mean streets of the barrio: he's a literature prof at MIT.
Diaz says, "Every time I meet writers from Latin America I laugh, because most of them are white and rich. If they are representatives of our culture, I say, come on. When I travel to Colombia or Venezuela or Cuba most of the people don't look white, but when you meet their writers, every little one of them is bourgeois and extremely white. There is a disconnection between the people and the writers which we have to improve. In any country you name, Peru, Colombia, look for a group of writers from that country, and I'll get together a group of Latins in the United States, and you'll realize that there is much more diversity among Latin writers in the United States than among writers in any other country."
So far so good, right? American society makes it possible for poor Hispanic immigrants to grow up to be writers and professors, something not possible for poor citizens of some Latin American countries.
But Díaz also says, "You can't choose your colonial language. This is a punishment. Mine is English. I learned to read in English. That's why I write in English mixed with Spanish."
Wait a minute. Colonial language? Dude, your parents immigrated from the Dominican and brought you with them when you were nine years old. The American public schools taught you to read and write at the taxpayers' expense. I don't think you can say that English has colonized you if you grew up in New Jersey, especially after you've joined the American upper-middle class, with whom you speak English.
He continues, "I don't know if this prize (will help Latino literature in the US) because you know what the gringos (sic) are like. Although they praise you today, tomorrow they mistreat you like an animal."
Yeah, you know what the spicks are like. Although they feed from your hand today, tomorrow they bite you on that very same hand.