The Ministry of Justice's civil servants have agreed to end their two-month strike which has left the courtrooms of Spain paralyzed. Things are so backed up that nobody's sure when literally thousands of cases are going to be resolved.
So the Olympic torch has provoked large protests in London and Paris; I'm glad to see the protests, but I'm not happy at all with the disturbances. Protest peacefully or don't protest. And, of course, the turnout at these demos against the Communist Chinese dictatorship is less than one percent of what the usual suspects can bring out when the bad guy is the United States.
My position on a boycott: I'm against any sort of government-organized boycotts, like those in Moscow and Los Angeles, since I think government and sports should have nothing to do with one another. If I were an athlete I'd stay home, but if an athlete decides to attend the Peking Olympics, he should behave himself as a guest of China and not make any political statements. Elected government officials should have nothing to do with the Olympics, since it's not an occasion of state but a private sports wingding; they should just ignore it. And as an individual, I am definitely boycotting it; I'm not going to watch it on TV, and I encourage everyone else to do the same.
Economics news: BBVA predicts Spain's economic growth in 2008 to be a mere 1.7-2.2%, and 2009's growth to be 0.8-2.0%. That's bad. Very bad. Unemployment's going to hit ten percent, easy, and the balanced budget is dead. The construction sector is looking at a 10% decline this year and as much as a 20% further decline in 2009. About the only good thing is that low growth may tame inflation, which is pushing 5% a year. BBVA doesn't think Spain will go into an actual recession, and that recovery may begin in the second half of 2009. Econ minister Pedro Solbes still predicts 3.1% growth for 2008. Somebody's wrong, and if the private sector and the government disagree, I tend to have more faith in the private sector, since if they're wrong they might lose their jobs. This does not happen at the Economics Ministry.
By the way, those huge construction complexes on the Mediterranean coast, most notoriously Marina d'Or in Oropesa, are in bad trouble. They're laying off thousands of workers and cutting apartment prices drastically. A lot of people made the mistake of investing their life savings in a coastal apartment, believing prices would just continue going up. Problem: They're going down, and fast. Wild guess: The "Las Vegas in Los Monegros" project is going to turn into a "Mini-Golf and Roadside Zoo in Los Monegros" project pretty soon.
Interesting investment idea: The barley growers' cooperative in Calaf, not too far from Vallfogona, is planning to open a small brewery to manufacture high-end beer to be sold mostly at restaurants as a gourmet item. Their marketing strategy is to sell it as a quality Catalan product, appealing to the "everything we make here is the best" feeling that's common around these parts. I figure it's pretty hard to go broke if you're selling beer, and that if it's a co-op, it's not some kind of fly-by-night company. They're looking for small investors. Shares are €3000 each, so if you buy one you're not gambling everything you have. (Note: I'm not putting any money into this myself.)
Get this: A bunch of Catalan-bourgeois rich kids put the Latino gangs to shame with their violence last night. They were at an expensive disco called Rosebud up near Tibidabo, and the cops pulled over a car with four of them in it, who were obviously loaded on alcohol and pills. The driver of the car head-butted a cop and broke his nose, and a fight broke out, which the rich punk kids lost. A couple of hours later, these four punks' friends decided they were going to wreck the disco, more than twenty of them, and the cops were called in. Chairs and bottles flew, and tens of thousands of euros' damage was done. A total of thirteen arrests were made, including the punks in the car, on charges of assault and battery, grievous bodily harm, and resisting arrest. Finally the cops arrest somebody around here. These little shits deserve to have the whole lawbook thrown at them, and to go to jail for a good long time, especially Mr. Headbutt. So what happened? The judge let them all go free on bail.
Breaking news: The Castilla-Leon autonomous government has announced that two people in the region have died of mad-cow disease. Uh-oh. Get this: Both deaths occurred more than a month ago. Seems like maybe they could have announced this before now.
More boat people: A cayuco with 56 illegal immigrants aboard, including 12 minors, washed up this morning on El Hierro in the Canaries. The West Africans are desperate enough to risk their lives trying to get out. The international press ignored the story as usual.
Get this: The Catalan regional government budgeted €20 million in 2006 to help out the very poorest people in Catalonia, those with a monthly income of €544 or less. Of course, I'm completely in favor of spending public money to help the less fortunate among us, at least in cases like this; it's part of the social contract that we provide a safety net to help those of us who can't make it on their own. We can debate how to provide that safety net, and how much we should spend on it, but you can't leave people to go hungry and be cold, even when (as is true in some cases) their poverty is at least partly their own fault.
So they've cut the number of people eligible for this program from 51,000 to 8000. By the way, there are 80,000 people in Catalonia whose only known income is their minimum old-age / disability pension of just €322. Just great. If we're going to help the poor, let's bloody well help the poor, instead of inventing new bureaucratic programs that don't seem to be doing a damn bit of good.
And people around here criticize the United States for being heartless toward the poor. Some guy told me the other day that New York was the city with the most poor people in the world. I said, "What about Calcutta and Lagos and Sao Paulo?" and he shut up. Where do people hear this crapola? From the Spanish media, of course. But why do they believe it?
Just in case you're interested, the Telegraph has a positive article about wind energy farms in Spain. Check it out.
Charlton Heston's death is getting big media play in Spain, and they're concentrating on his acting career rather than his political opinions, which is a nice change from the usual.
Barça choked last night and drew 0-0 against Getafe at home, a game they should have won and needed to win. For the first time since Laporta has been club president, the fans brought out their white hankies and had a "pañolada," when they wave said hankies en masse to show their displeasure. It's more clear than ever that everybody's head but Laporta's is going to roll at the end of this season.