Sunday, February 28, 2010

GOOD NEWS for many motorists stopped at traffic lights: mucophagia, that is, eating boogers, is good for your health as it strengthens your immunitary system. Don't get to excited, though: it still kills your social life.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

ON A DIFFERENT NOTE, these pictures of the Chile quake aftermath are no less impressive.

ABSOLUTELY STUNNING: take a look at these pictures taken after the Battle of Stalingrad.


Friday, February 26, 2010

One of the Australia's most well-known politicians has been demoted following a bungled home insulation programme.

Peter Garrett, former lead singer with the band Midnight Oil, introduced the scheme that is linked to four deaths and more than 90 fires.

The Environment Minister will now be given reduced responsibilities.

Thursday, February 25, 2010



A GOOD LONG SUMMARY of Spain's economic woes, at the Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

YOU GOT TO ADMIT that the latest anti-smoking campaign in France is powerful. Stupid, but powerful: "To smoke is to be a slave of tobacco"


UPDATE. Eric Scheie has the "sanitized" version. And there's indeed a paradox: if the mere public depiction of cigarettes in France is banned (movie posters, etc -- even Lucky Luke, who started munching pieces of straw and even sported a nicotine patch for a while), it's odd that cigarettes appear so conspicuously in the ad. Yeah, I know it's precisely made to demonize them, but still...

UPDATE II. More at The Independent. I found this even more silly than the ad itself:
Marco de la Fuente, the leader of the project for the BDDP et Fils ad agency, said: "The old arguments – tobacco is bad for you – don't work any more. The message here is that tobacco is a form of submission. In the popular imagination, oral sex is the perfect symbol of submission." 
Oral sex, in general, a symbol of submission? No qualifiers? Also when it's not forced? Wow, I didn't know the French had become a bunch of prudes...

TEA PARTIES coming to Europe? I hope I'm wrong, but I'm not sure how much traction they'll get. Over this side of the Atlantic people are too used to live in pseudo-freedom.

TODAY MARKS the 29th anniversary of the grotesque coup attempt in Spain; Michael Kaplan remembers what happened and pays a tribute to the essential role that king Juan Carlos played to thwart it.

THESE ARE EXACTLY the ten reasons why I avoid talking on the phone as much as I can. And I've never been in touch with so many people. It's just that I tend to either do it either by electronic means (email and similar), or face to face. The phone is tremendously inefficient, except for very specific purposes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

WHISPERS: a truly fabulous dispatch by Michael Yon, back from a mission with the US Air Force in Afghanistan. He's been flying with the medics, moving wounded soldiers. Don't miss it and, if you want to help Michael, consider sending him some money: he's reader-supported.

THE "CLIMATE DENIERS'" ranks keep swelling: Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

BEWARE, the dark forces of Saxonomics! Zapatero is right about the Anglo-Saxon conspiracy against the euro and himself, and Eric Sheie has the evidence...

THOSE BLOODTHIRSTY AMERICAN TROOPS. Look how cruel they are (via The Guardian)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

ANOTHER ECO-MYTH BUSTED: sea levels have not risen, but fallen for the past years.

Friday, February 19, 2010

SPAIN'S FANNIE and Freddie start to show dramatic deterioration:
The Spanish Instituto Credito Oficiale, or ICO, is a state backed entity that provides funding to small businesses. It is now showing widening spreads against Spanish government debt, according to FT Alphaville.

They explain that this makes no sense considering the debt is backed by the Kingdom of Spain, unless there is a dramatic drop in market confidence due to European bailout provisions or that the ICO has the wrong idea about how much funding it really needs.

This is not too far removed from what happened with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before they were explicitly taken over by the U.S. government.
More here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

HERE'S WHY you shouldn't buy Zapatero's promise to the international investors community of being more fiscally responsible.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ONE OF THE BEST SUMMARIES I've read of the reasons why the anthropogenic global warming theory is nothing more than pseudoscience. Like astrology, graphology, alchimia, numerology, or intelligent design. Read it all.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

THIS LA TIMES EDITORIAL defending judge Baltasar Garzón is way out of line, for two reasons: one, that the heat he's getting is not only because he wanted to indict the Franco regime ignoring the 1977 amnesty, but for other potentially more damning cases that have nothing to do with it.

Let's start with the Franco regime prosecution (leaving aside that Generalissimo Franco is still dead, as do the main strongmen). Many people, virtually all but a handful of regime nostalgics, welcome the attempt to unbury the corpses of people executed by the Franco's people. The problem is that there's also hundreds of people buried in mass graves which were killed by Second Republic paramilitaries, even official law enforcement agents (in a civil war both sides killed and get killed, you know). And besides the insistence that he should investigate them too, and indict the culprits too, he's unwilling to do so. That's where the unlawful prosecution comes in. If the country really wants to come clean with its past in order to be able to move on with peace of mind, it should treat crimes on both sides equally. Otherwise its looks like one side is now trying to win a war they lost.

And no, the fact that Franco already honored its dead is not an argument. First, because that's not always the case: there are hundreds still buried in unmarked sites, in the same roadsides where they were shot. But second and most importantly, because if we consider the Franco regime's actions illegitimate, worth nothing, the honoring of its dead would be worth nothing either. If the post-1975 democracy wants to settle once and for all the wrongs of the Franco regime, it must honor both its victims and those of the other side, something that has yet to happen.

But, as I said, there's other cases against Garzón that are being investigated. One (link in Spanish), the year on leave he spent teaching in NYU, between March 2005 and June 2006. He failed to declare he was getting paid a grant for him, his assistant, and his daughter schooling, by NYU, so the Spanish judiciary kept paying him his regular salary as if he didn't (that's illegal). More damning, NYU paid him with funds provided by Banco Santander. Garzón asked personally in letters to Emilio Botín, the bank's CEO and one of its main shareholders, to pay NYU in order for NYU to pay him. Worst of all, just as Garzón's leave ended and after he came back to Spain and resumed his duties as a magistrate, he immediately acquitted Botín from a high-profile case around the illegal concession of loans.

And two (link in Spanish), something that happened during the so-called negotiation between the Zapatero government and the Basque terrorist group ETA. Garzón is now being investigated by the Supreme Court for unduly delaying the investigation of a murky episode: the police tipped an ETA member about his upcoming arrest so that he could flee. There are phone records showing that a police anti-terror chief called a terrorist collaborator that he shouldn't collect extortion money at the agreed pickup site because cops were positioned there to arrest whoever picked the money. We know that because of a wiretap in a Basque politician car, where the terrorist collaboration explained him in amazement what happened. The reason? according to ETA documents later seized by the French police (link in Spanish), the government negotiator with ETA used that incident to prove that Zapatero was acting in good faith in the negotiation. Never mind he was also collaborating with a terrorist organization... Known as the "Bar Faisán" case (after the name of the bar where the tipped terrorist collaborator worked, and where he got the tip from the police chief), the case landed in Garzón's desk and was immediately put in a drawer. Afterwards there was a mysterious disappearance of the incriminating video and audio surveillance case.

So no, LA Times, Garzón's trouble are not as venial as a disagreement on whether to prosecute a dead regime or not. I know it all sounds really strange, more like in a bad movie than reality. Welcome to Spain's "wonderful" politics.

ANOTHER eco-lie uncovered:
More trouble looms for the IPCC. The body may need to revise statements made in its Fourth Assessment Report on hurricanes and global warming. A statistical analysis of the raw data shows that the claims that global hurricane activity has increased cannot be supported.

Les Hatton once fixed weather models at the Met Office. Having studied Maths at Cambridge, he completed his PhD as metereologist: his PhD was the study of tornadoes and waterspouts. He's a fellow of the Royal Meterological Society, currently teaches at the University of Kingston, and is well known in the software engineering community - his studies include critical systems analysis.

Hatton has released what he describes as an 'A-level' statistical analysis, which tests six IPCC statements against raw data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) Administration. He's published all the raw data and invites criticism, but warns he is neither "a warmist nor a denialist", but a scientist.

Hatton performed a z-test statistical analysis of the period 1999-2009 against 1946-2009 to test the six conclusions. He also ran the data ending with what the IPCC had available in 2007. He found that North Atlantic hurricane activity increased significantly, but the increase was counterbalanced by diminished activity in the East Pacific, where hurricane-strength storms are 50 per cent more prevalent. The West Pacific showed no significant change. Overall, the declines balance the increases.

The Taliban's top military leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has been captured, a senior administration official told CNN late Monday.
This is a "huge deal," CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen said. "This guy ... is the number two political figure in the Taliban" to the group's founder Mullah Muhammad Omar.

Baradar, an Afghan, was also a close associate of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden ahead of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
American and Pakistani intelligence officials are taking part in interrogations, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said.

"The critical issue is how much will he talk and provide information on ... where the Taliban in Pakistan are and ... where Osama bin Laden is," said Robin Wright, a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Bergen said Baradar also would have been in regular contact with Omar.

Monday, February 15, 2010

ANOTHER great dispatch by Michael Yon from Afghanistan.

ZACHERY KOUWE, another Jayson Blair in The New York Times?

HITLER on climate change (via Gerard Van der Leun). Awesome:

PARANOIA, the last refuge of the incompetent:
It is the only economy in Western Europe still in recession: property prices are crashing, unemployment has risen to more than 4 million, and some are already muttering that it could end up with a financial crisis worse than Greece's.

But at least Spain now has someone to blame: the country's intelligence services are investigating the role of British and American media in fomenting financial turmoil, the respected El País daily reported .

The newspaper said the country's National Intelligence Centre (CNI) was investigating a series of "speculative attacks" against the Spanish economy amid bond market jitters about the country's growing national debt.
We're in the best hands.

UPDATE. The Financial Times' Alphaville: "We are having the office swept for bugs at the moment."

UPDATE II. More at Der Spiegel.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I WOULDN'T WANT to be this guy right now:
As the head of a once obscure Greek agency churning out government data, Manolis Kontopirakis never sought the limelight that has suddenly come his way, after his country’s financial woes touched off a global storm that threatens to tear the euro zone apart.

But the limelight found him because he has been accused of being the source of faulty figures that more than tripled the country’s budget deficit overnight.
Well, I actually would never want to be this guy, but you get my point. It must not be easy to be in the epicenter of a financial storm.

NOW THE TELL US. Several climate scientists who participated in the IPCC reports are now saying that the planet may not be warming after all:
“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC.

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

Christy has published research papers looking at these effects in three different regions: east Africa, and the American states of California and Alabama.

“The story is the same for each one,” he said. “The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development.”
The IPCC faces similar criticisms from Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph, Canada, who was invited by the panel to review its last report.

The experience turned him into a strong critic and he has since published a research paper questioning its methods.
“We concluded, with overwhelming statistical significance, that the IPCC’s climate data are contaminated with surface effects from industrialisation and data quality problems. These add up to a large warming bias,” he said.
Some scientific consensus, eh?

THE BAILOUT OF GREECE and the end of the euro.

ABOUT those vanishing polar bears:
The worldwide population of polar bears has doubled in the past thirty years. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the gist of a reportby the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released on January 30, 2008:
    The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that the polar bear population is currently at 20,000 to 25,000 bears, up from as low as 5,000-10,000 bears in the 1950s and 1960s.  A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey of wildlife in the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain noted that the polar bear populations “may now be near historic highs.”
The picture is very à propos.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

FERRAN ADRIÀ denies (link in Spanish) the information in the New York Times that he's closing his restaurant El Bulli for good.

A BIT OF SANITY amid all the alarmism surrounding Google Buzz and privacy. I believe Google's mistake was to integrate so tightly something very public -- a social network -- with something very private -- email. It freaked everybody out, as if private stuff was going to leak out any moment. It seems that Google is about to do what it should have done in the first place: offer users the option of using Buzz within Gmail or separately.

Friday, February 12, 2010

DID the European Central Bank Chief Economist Jürgen Stark really blame the American and British media for the Euro woes? He's more than hinting it:
SPIEGEL: Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy are also suffering acutely from big deficits. Could such countries really go bankrupt without threatening the very existence of the euro zone?

Stark: That isn't a question we face. But I would like to point to one aspect in this context: Great Britain has a budget deficit of the same magnitude as Greece's. The US budget deficit is also more than 10 percent of GDP. All advanced economies are currently having problems. In fact, it is astonishing to see where most of the criticism of the euro is coming from at the moment.

SPIEGEL: It sounds as if you suspect that the Anglo-American media is behind the attacks.

Stark: At any rate, much of what they are printing reads as if they were trying to deflect attention away from problems in their own backyard.
Yeah, right.

PACHAURI confronted cornered by a Spanish TV reporter about errors in AR4 and the use of WWF and Greenpeace reports. Of course, he fudges the issue:

UPDATE. Cornered! That's the word I was looking for while I was writing the post but it didn't come to me. Seen at the Instapundit link here (thanks, Glenn). But, as my tagline says, English is not my mother tongue, so sue me!

UPDATE II. Richard North has the transcript of the moment where Pachauri tries to answer about Himalayagate and WWFgate:
Well. There are no errors. There is one error which we have acknowledged which was in respect of melting of the Himalayan glaciers.

Let me emphasise that the others are not errors and it is perfectly valid to use non-peer reviewed literature provided we look at the source of information that is contained in that non peer-reviewed literature and make sure that it's authentic.

You must realise that there are some parts of the world where you really don't have published research material. And therefore it's been the practice of the IPCC to use non peer-reviewed literature. With, of course, a lot of caveats and careful authentication of the source of that information.

And, what you're pointing out is really not correct. We have investigated these so-called errors. They're not errors and we are absolutely certain that what we have said over that can be substantiated on the basis of scientific information.

Except for the case that I mentioned, the Himalayan glaciers where it was said the glaciers would melt, would vanish by 2035 and that error we have acknowledged and have put a note on the IPCC website which I would request you to look at carefully.

PAUL KRUGMAN vs. the Kingdom of Spain: it's the Chart Wars!
So essentially the issues is this one. Spain’s economy will not recover, and return to growth till Spanish products become more attractive in price terms, and this only means one thing: some sort of internal devaluation is inevitable, and all the talk about an exclusively fiscal correction is simply an attempt to get rid of the smoke without going to the trouble of extinguishing the fire which is producing it.

THE NEW banana republics:
The same kind of macroeconomic irresponsibility that was typical of Latin America (including Brazil) in the second half of the last century is becoming a major characteristic of the following 20 countries: Iceland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Latvia, Ireland, Ukraine, Romania, Lithuania, Turkey, Bulgaria, United States (yes, USA), Australia, Japan (yes, Japan), United Kingdom (yes, UK), South Africa, France (yes, France), Russia, New Zealand, and Italy.

They have either current account balance-of-payments deficits greater than 4% of GDP (Greece has 12%) or Government deficits greater than 4% of GDP (Spain has 12%) - or both (the so-called "twin deficits").

This explains basically why many of these countries are facing major increases in terms of country risk. In particular, Greece and Spain are major concerns now, as far as sovereign risk is concerned – and, additionally, Iceland, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

STAYING WITH The Economist, this is a very harsh -- and very accurate -- piece on Zapatero and Spain's economy:
Aides to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Socialist prime minister, claim that Spain is the victim not just of a speculative attack but also of a plot led by “the Anglo-Saxon press” to destroy the euro.

To this piffle the best retort is: grow up. It is true that Spain is not Greece. Its public debt, relative to the size of the economy, is lower than that of Britain or the United States. It has not had to bail out its banks. And fears of financial contagion have made the markets unnaturally volatile. But there are good reasons for investors to worry about Spain.

[...] To make matters worse, Mr Zapatero looks out of his depth. He was a popular leader in the good times, during Spain’s long boom. But he failed to see the bust coming. When he belatedly recognised that the economy was in trouble, he misdiagnosed the problem as an imported recession that he could safely wait out. He carried on doling out public money and raising pensions and public-sector wages while shunning reform. Over the past month the markets have grasped that this course, if he persists in it, would lead to ruin. They are one step ahead of the government, which has reacted with fumbling confusion, abruptly launching an austerity plan and a vague scheme for labour-market reform, only to withdraw bits of both at the first cheep of protest.

Many of Spain’s troubles start at home.
Reat it all.

A NOT TOO BAD report of the Tea Party convention, by The Economist. Towards the end it goes a bit off the rails, though, as if birtherism wasn't a fringe, which it was as far as I know (I wasn't there). Interestingly, immediately after they mention Andrew Breitbart's speech against media bias without pointing out that it was precisely him who got in a very heated argument with WND's Farah, a prominent birther.

JUST IMAGINE the lod screams if it wasn't Obama, but Bush, who wanted to track cellphones.

EUROPE has reached a deal to save Greece:
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said European leaders have reached a deal on helping Greece with a debt crisis that threatens to spread to other euro-zone nations.

Mr. Van Rompuy said "we have an agreement," after meeting in Brussels with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He gave no details, saying they would be released after leaders of all 27 EU states finishing meeting Thursday.

BIG TURMOIL in Iran today as the regime marks the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution. There's clashes reported throughout Tehran and other parts of the country. Karoubi and Khatami were allegedly attacked by security forces, though everything is very difficult to confirm as there's a virtual blackout, with news media and the Internet blocked (even Gmail!).

The festivities started with Ahmadinejad announcing that Iran is now "a nuclear state". Awesome.

UPDATE. The Guardian is liveblogging.


UPDATE III. Singing "Death to the dictator" in the subway:

UPDATE IV. IranNewsNow is also liveblogging. Andrew Sullivan too, demonstrating he can use his time to something really useful from time to time.

UPDATE V. In Vesal Street, Tehran:

UPDATE VI. "Clashes erupted in several Tehran locations where there was a significant presence of green protesters. Dozens of protesters were arrested by intelligence forces at Sadeghieh square and other areas. . . .  Reports from other parts of Tehran suggest that similar clashes have taken place and many protesters have been injured after being savagely beaten by security forces."


UPDATE VIII. Dead, or just injured?

ت�را� / 22 ب��� / 2 #iranelection #22bahman  on Twitpic

UPDATE IX. A poster of Khamenei and Khomeini is torn down while people cheer and shout "Marg bar diktator!"

UPDATE X. The police beating a protester:

GREAT MOMENTS in contemporary philosophy:
For the debut of his latest weighty title, “On War in Philosophy,” the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy made the glossy spreads of French magazines with his trademark panache: crisp, unbuttoned white Charvet shirts, golden tan and a windswept silvery mane of hair.

But this glamorous literary campaign was suddenly marred by an absolute philosophical truth: Mr. Lévy backed up the book’s theories by citing the thought of a fake philosopher. In fact, the sham philosopher has never been a secret, and even has his own Wikipedia entry.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

MORE WORRYING NEWS about the euro:
The EU is working feverishly to solve the Greek sovereign debt crisis. Yesterday, in an article in the German-language Financial Times Deutschland, CDU/CSU Bundestag Fraktionschef Michael Meister (the equivalent of Nancy Pelosi in America) said that all options to ‘aid’ Greece were being considered including bilateral aid. Bilateral support now seems off the table because of EU rules against this type of intra-EU support. The German financial newspaper Handelsblatt reports unspecified government officials saying that even EU aid is off the table.

MORE FROM Michael Yon on the logistics of the US mission in Afghanistan, with great pictures. Check it out.

ON THE CAUSE of the Spanish fiscal mess, Paul Krugman misleads his readers. Now that's a shocker...

WHY THE VEIL is a bad idea: "An Arab ambassador has called off his wedding after discovering his wife-to-be who wears a face-covering veil is bearded and cross-eyed."

Caveat emptor indeed.

AS USUAL Europe "leading" in innovation:
The Commission is currently considering rules that would allow manufacturers to discriminate against so-called "pure-play" online retailers (retailers that only have an online presence). These rules, if adopted, would allow manufacturers of everyday products such as children's toys and kitchen appliances to require retailers wishing to sell their goods to maintain brick and mortar stores, and to sell at least a certain amount (in value or volume) of their products in these stores.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

ANOTHER REPORT that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Meshud is dead, this time from CNN. FWIW.

Monday, February 08, 2010

YAY! "Beer May Be Good For Your Bones"

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?
Urban legend or not, the truth is that I'm not surprised. If there were a wave of "Unchained Melody Killings", or "Any Song by Whitney Houston Particulary That One From The Bodyguard Killings" I would understand too. Karaoke bars are evil.

JUST WHAT SPAIN NEEDED: instead of a government reading the signs coming from everywhere (economists, EU, IMF, World Bank, etc) pointing to how bad the situation is and looking at themselves to see if they're to blame, the country has leaders who -- I assume in desperation -- have turned paranoid. Literally:
The Spanish government is convinced it is being unfairly treated by foreign investors and the media. José Blanco, Spain’s public works minister, hit out at “financial speculators” for attacking the euro and criticised “apocalyptic commentaries” about Spain’s finances.

Appealing for patriotism, Mr Blanco said in a radio interview: “Nothing that is happening in the world, including the editorials of foreign newspapers, is casual or innocent.”
It's like the European version of Venezuela.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: a graphic report from Michael Yon on the supplying of US troops in Afghanistan.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

"WE'RE DOWN, But Don’t You Dare Count Us Out":
While the crackpot despots of Third World hellholes dare to mock the US Dollar and the armchair fatalists clog their blogs and Twitter streams with daily predictions of this nation's impending demise, it gets easy to forget how substantial the roots of America are - and how deeply they are planted.
Read it all.

GOOD THING we're on recession: Spain's lawmakers are still in their 48-day Christmas break. Come think of it, the longer, the better. At least we only waste their salaries, not the funds for the laws they pass...

THINGS that are hard to say when you are drunk. LOL.

SPAIN'S development minister does a mini-Reagan with air traffic controllers.

AS USUAL, Spain always takes PC further than anyone else, so much that it even outdoes Arabs in anti-Israel decisions. To wit: even Arab students are circulating a petition against Spain's boycott of an Israeli university team in the Social Decathlon, a competition between universities to build a sustainable solar house, because its college is in the West Bank.

Friday, February 05, 2010

AN EXTREMELY simple way of downloading YouTube videos. So easy that even I understand it!

OUCH: "Premier Zapatero may have started as the Spanish Kennedy and will finish as the Spanish Bush Junior."

The country's economy keeps getting worse and worse, and the impact in the stock market is huge.

And the general mood has totally changed. You can count the number of people who still defend the government with one hand, even among leftists. The commentariat, pundits and bloggers were just brutal yesterday, and so far it seems today it's going to be the same. We've reached a turning point that, alas, the stubborn Zapatero doesn't seem to get.

UPDATE. Stubborn and deluded, clueless, or lying, you choose:
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, facing investor concerns about Spain's indebtedness, said on Thursday his country was financially "solid" and would rein in its public deficit.

Speaking at a conference in Washington, Zapatero said Spain faced big economic challenges, but did not have to inject funds into its financial system like other countries.

"That will help reduce the public deficit," he said, addressing one of the main worries that made stocks .IBEX plunge almost 6 percent on Thursday and increased pressure over bonds.
True, there hasn't been any injection of public funds into Spain's financial system, but it's a matter of time, considering that Spanish banks hold about $450 billion -- an equivalent of 30% of the country's GDP -- in nonperforming loans, as I wrote the other day. So either he doesn't know, which would be unacceptable or, as teenagers do, he knows and thinks that the problem will disappear by itself just by denying it, while people won't notice. It's really difficult to know which is worse.

UPDATE II. If you think I'm exaggerating, take a look at this chart by McKinsey showing Spain's total debt, including government, non-financial business, households and financial institutions, as a staggering 366% of GDP (click to enlarge):

Also, while it may be true, as the Zapatero government spin goes, a 56% public debt over GDP (60% forecasted for 2011) is much lower than many countries, what makes it different is that the debt is very short-term, about one year. If you add the €100bn deficit ($137 bn) in 2009, plus other €125 bn (€$171 bn) maturing within 2010, it's going to be extremely difficult to raise that much money at a reasonable price. We're talking about €225 bn ($308 bn).

Thursday, February 04, 2010

REMEMBER a few days ago when it looked like Zapatero had suddenly changed tack on the economy and announced he would delay the retirement age to 67? Turns out that yesterday morning he sent an austerity plan to the European Union with that measure, and also with a promise to increase the years that Spaniards need to pay to be entitled to a pension, from 15 to 25 years. Just three and a half hours later, the Spanish government sent an amended version of the plan without those measures. I'm sure it's gonna play wonders with the country's credibility...

UPDATE. Darn: Blogger ate the links again. Added; sorry about that.

THE BIG, REAL PROBLEM for the Euro is not Greece but Spain, says Paul Krugman.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

THE CRUELTY OF COMPASSION: Social cohesion has become an excuse for avoiding necessary reforms in Europe.
SOCIAL cohesion is one of those values all decent Europeans can sign up to: less social conflict and less of the inequality that America and Britain (see article) put up with. Some countries, notably Germany, really do manage to marry social harmony and economic reform. In the past decade Germany has—thanks to good management and obliging unions—kept its public sector in check, partly freed its labour market, held down unemployment, and regained competitiveness. Elsewhere, though, the need to preserve social cohesion, parroted by European politicians from left and right, has become a self-defeating excuse to avoid reform.
One of the most glaring examples in the article is, of course, Spain. Read it all.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

IF YOU'VE LOST The Guardian, you've lost everything:

Phil Jones, the beleaguered British climate scientist at the centre of the leaked emails controversy, is facing fresh claims that he sought to hide problems in key temperature data on which some of his work was based.

A Guardian investigation of thousands of emails and documents apparently hacked from the University of East Anglia's climatic research unit has found evidence that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed and that documents relating to them could not be produced.

Jones and a collaborator have been accused by a climate change sceptic and researcher of scientific fraud for attempting to suppress data that could cast doubt on a key 1990 study on the effect of cities on warming – a hotly contested issue.

Today the Guardian reveals how Jones withheld the information requested under freedom of information laws. Subsequently a senior colleague told him he feared that Jones's collaborator, Wei-­Chyung Wang of the University at Albany, had "screwed up".

ZAPATERO must have had a not too pleasant breakfast this morning upon reading this by Victor Mallet at the Financial Times:
Elena Salgado, the normally sprightly Spanish finance minister, could not disguise her discomfort when she announced an austerity plan designed to slash successive budget deficits and restore the country's credibility on international markets.

She had good reason to be uneasy. The table of figures she presented on Friday showing Spain's "fiscal consolidation path" through €50bn ($69bn, £43bn) of savings over four years had some embarrassingly blank spaces for projected budget deficits in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Spain, the empty boxes tell us, wants to reduce its total public sector deficit from 11.4 per cent of gross domestic product in 2009 to the European Union target of 3 per cent of GDP in 2013, but is not sure if it can - or how to do it.

Central government intends to play its part, but budget cuts need the support of autonomous regions, local authorities and trade unions. They may not co-operate.

It is bad enough that investors have lost faith in Greek economic policy but, if the eurozone is to remain intact, it is essential that Spain swiftly restores order to its public finances.

As one of the "big four" eurozone economies - with Germany, France and Italy - Spain is four times as large as Greece, five times the size of Ireland and six times that of Portugal.

Yet Spain's immediate prospects are dismal.
It goes on.

UPDATE. If this didn't sour Zapatero's breakfast, this has probably done it: "Spain January Jobless Claims +3.1% On Month, +22% On Yr " And that's registered unemployment; joblessness is much bigger.

OBAMA is not coming to Europe for the EU-US summit, though he does plan to go to Australia in the spring (and while he's at it, to Indonesia so visit where he spent several years of his childhood). I guess it shows he has at least some idea of who America's real allies are. Still, it's the first time a US president doesn't attend that summit. Can you imagine what would have people said if Bush had dissed Europe like this?

Monday, February 01, 2010

GUM MASSAGER? Yeah, right.

NOW THAT Obama seems to have killed the Moon mission, an open source plan to a Moon base? Whoa.

LIKE GOOGLE MAPS meets Time Tunnel: an interactive aerial map, with hi-res photos, of New York in 1924. Very cool.


One day shortly after the Second World War ended, Winston Churchill and Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee encountered one another at the urinal trough in the House of Common's men's washroom. Attlee arrived first. When Churchill arrived, he stood as far away from him as possible. Attlee said, "Feeling standoffish today, are we, Winston?" Churchill said: "That's right. Every time you see something big, you want to nationalize it."

UNILATERALIST COWBOY disregarding the allies:
The White House has decided that President Barack Obama will not attend what has been an annual summit with the European Union this spring, as Mr. Obama scales back from his record-setting foreign travel last year.

White House officials said Sunday that the subdued travel schedule was always planned. But it comes as the president's domestic agenda is faltering and he is focusing on economic and political troubles at home. His State of the Union speech last week concentrated heavily on economic and domestic issues, with just a small section on foreign policy.

The decision to skip the EU summit will likely disappoint many Europeans, especially in Spain, current holder of the rotating EU presidency, which expected to host the summit in Madrid in May. It may also feed fears that Mr. Obama views the EU as irrelevant. Most Americans, though, are unfamiliar with the meeting.

A spokesman for the Spanish foreign ministry had no comment.
They're drying tears... They were looking forward to the Messiah coming.