Chatter: Spain prepares to tighten its belt, even more




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Need to know:
Spain is due to unveil its 2013 budget later today. On the menu: austerity, austerity, austerity, with a garnish of cost-cutting.

The plan will detail some €39 billion ($50 billion) of savings, which are expected to come from tax hikes, pension reforms and other measures sure to go down well with the Spaniards already protesting in the streets against government cuts.

Today's announcement will also be closely watched by those who suspect that Madrid is preparing to ask for a bailout from the rest of the euro zone, à la Greece. In case there was any doubt, the euro crisis is back.

Want to know:
The United Nations General Assembly sees itself as a chance to tackle "humanity's most intractable problems." Which is why, presumably, the UN delights in coming up with billing that would have any other party planner reaching for their emergency supply of extra-strong punch.

Thus, today's order of business reads as follows: Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, asking for new status; followed closely by Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. They're friends, aren't they?

Both are speaking two days after US President Barack Obama said Iran had to be prevented from getting a nuclear weapon, and one day after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the "uncivilized Zionists" of aggression. Oh, and Julian Assange thinks Obama is trying to take far too much credit for the Arab Spring's achievements, when everyone knows that they were thanks to... Julian Assange.

Another speaker to look out for is Libya's de facto head of state, Mohamed al-Magariaf, who'll address the meeting this afternoon. He's due to tell the world how his country's fledgling government will react following the violence that killed four Americans there earlier this month.

Dull but important:
Chinese authorities have upheld a tax evasion fine on Ai Weiwei, again.

China's best known dissident today lost his second appeal against the $2.4-million penalty imposed on his company last year. The court turned down his request for the right to challenge the fine in an open trial.

Ai called the decision "extremely shameless." The artist, who spent three months in detention without charge last year after repeatedly criticizing the Chinese government, maintains that the case is an attempt to muzzle him. He risks going to jail if he can't stump up the hefty fine.

Just because:
Fans of football and/or justice will be glad to hear that the NFL has agreed a deal with its locked-out referees.

The League and NFL Referees Association signed the new contract last night, putting to bed their three-month dispute over pay, pensions and training. The deal means that it will be regular officials making the calls at tonight's Cleveland-Baltimore game.

So the Browns and the Ravens should be spared the pain suffered by the Green Bay Packers, who lost to the Seattle Seahawks this week on what we'll politely term a controversial call by replacement refs. It's only cold comfort, but at least the indignation that ensued – heck, even Obama weighed in – may have helped expedite yesterday's truce.

Strange but true:
For a country that has so many great ideas, Japan sure has some terrible ones.

The latest is a bizarro new form of body modification that involves replicating a delicious doughy snack, on your forehead. Saline is injected under the skin to cause swelling; a finger is pressed into the middle to create a central indentation; you look like you have a bagel on your head. You are a bagelhead.

We would say this video of the procedure is the weirdest thing you'll ever see; but who knows what they'll have come up with in another two months.