General sabotage

Today, March 29, 2012, Spain is suffering a general sabotage day. It’s a sabotage by work unions to all citizens who want to work, but who will find themselves without public transportation, or who will run into a group of unionists blocking access to workplaces.

It is sabotage because work unions (and some political parties) have asked the population not todo any shopping and not to make use of any services, sabotaging many other people in their economic activity (street stores, large and small businesses, and freelancers).

It is sabotage and blackmailing because it will erode the economic activity and the welfare of citizens.

This sabotage serves only to justify the very existence of work unions, unable to play a useful role in the necessary task of generating the required conditions to create jobs in Spain.

Today, do not be part of the sabotage; go to work.

Gender equality: Only if it is convenient

The Spanish Government of Rodríguez Zapatero likes to show off gender equality, while it has introduced legislation to require companies to have their boards of directors include a certain percentage of women. What stupidity; now being a woman or a man is officially a legal criteria for discrimination.

Proper defense of gender equality would be to fight against discrimination based on sex. However, when Trinidad Jiménez (foreign affairs Minister in Rodríguez Zapatero’s government) had to take part in the relationships between Spain and Morocco, she was displaced in favor of another intermediary (a man), because Morocco does not accept to negotiate with women.

Where is the gender equality defense that Rodríguez Zapatero used to preach about so frequently? Why does not he stand up before Morocco and supports Trinidad Jiménez as Spain’s delegate to Morocco? The answer is simply that Rodríguez Zapatero’s government has used “equality” exclusively as a publicity stunt. The discourse about gender equality is just one more comfortable lie from this government.

Air traffic management monopoly in Spain

Every now and then in Spain we have to suffer threats from this or that small group of workers from different sectors of paralyzing the country (or a given city). Transporters, workers in Metro de Madrid, the Madrid subway cleaners, pilots and air traffic controllers are examples of such elements. These small groups manage to impose their claims (rarely fair, and often capricious) thanks to: (a) the monopoly of the company employing them, and the resulting lack of competition, and (b) collective agreements.

These days of summer of 2010 air traffic controllers are once again pressing for new benefits (as they did also in 2009). In view of the situation of last year (2009), and in the face of what is already happening in 2010, José Blanco, the Minister of Development(Ministry in charge of air traffic control in Spain), has taken an excellent (and long over due) step: to liberalize the provision of air navigation services. It’s the best thing we can do to rid society (individuals, workers and businesses) of blackmailing maneuvers from worker unions.

In Spain there is only one airport operator, AENA, which is a state enterprise. It is a monopoly. If the company fails to provide service (by decision of its workers, as is the case of air traffic controllers), no other service provider of air navigation, leading easily to a halt of air traffic. It’s about time someone dismantled AENA’s monopolistic cartel.

With this new measure from the Ministry of Development (hopefully it will actually go into force), it will grant licenses to operate control towers to various aviation companies. Competition will be introduced in the service. Air traffic controllers will not belong all to a single company. Each one will have to negotiate their working conditions (salary included) with a given company, which in turn competes for the air navigation service.

Two problems remain to be solved: The point (b) set out above: The existence of collective agreements that can sill be used as a grouping mechanism that grants power to the controllers, even if working in different companies.

The second problem (point “c” in this list of problems) is derived from the air navigation service nature: Traffic is controlled service by a single control area or zone, within which there is no competition between service providers. It is a problem common to almost any type of infrastructure: data networks, roads, seaports, and airports: It is not easy (and perhaps not even possible) to have multiple service providers in the same place, for infrastructure users to choose different providers at any time. This problem of “local monopolies” is inherent to infrastructures, and it makes them very vulnerable to strikes and similar blackmail.

However, these “local monopolies” would not achieve the suspension of air navigation services in the whole of Spain: Some geographical areas may suffer a strike, but not others (which may be operated by different aviation companies).

It is necessary that the State eliminates collective agreements (this is a matter for another article), but the first step, the liberalization of service provision air navigation, seems to be under way. Congratulations to the Minister of Development, José Blanco, for this measure.

Unfounded european protectionism against Google

Several European states and European companies seem to be planning a host of measures to curb the business of Google. The excuse is that Google makes too much money. Not a bad excuse, as lame excuses go.

Governments and companies around Europe are “unhappy” that Google is here to compete. Publishers in Germany complain that they only earn €100m per year in advertisement, while Google earns €1.2bn (in Germany). In Spain, the main telecom operator is considering charging Google for the use of its network. In Italy, privacy protection advocates are calling for making Google liable for the content of its Youtube service (despite it all being provided by Youtube users, not Youtube itself). In the U.S. Google has faced opposition to the new business models it has pioneered, specially from the publishing industry.

All in all, Google is under attack, simply because it is big and successful. We’ve seen this over and over throughout history: Accepting change is not easy, and there are people who feel threatened by the changes brought on by the Internet (and Google). These people resort, like many humans have done in the past, to attacking the new big guy, rather than accepting that things have changed.

Some of Google’s services have introduced new ways of conducting old business. Some of these have been more successful than others, and it is the very successful ones that come under fire from the competition and from regulatory bodies. But that’s no surprise: None of the criticism that Google suffers is founded; it is only meant to protect someone else’s business, while there is no real claim behind the accusations.

Before Google existed, there were other search engines out there: We used to use Altavista and then Yahoo (circa 1996 or 1998). Noone ever complained that Altavista’s search facility was a threat to privacy (Google’s search engine is seen by some as a means of control over people’s interests). Noone ever complained that Yahoo’s e-mail service looked at the content of private e-mails to display targeted advertisement side-by-side your e-mails (Google’s e-mail service is considered by some as an invasion of privacy, for Google’s AdWords uses your e-mail content to display targeted advertisement, analogously to what Yahoo used to do).

The difference is that today, the number of Internet users is far larger than in those old days of the Internet, and now any company with a good product (like Google) can attract lots and lots (and lots) of users, producing high revenues for that company. Along with the high revenues come the hyenas trying to scrape some of that money from Google, simply to try and cash in on Google’s success (like Telefónica in Spain), or simply because they are unwilling to accept competition (publishers in Germany).

Telefónica (the main telecom operator in Spain) has proposed to charge for the use of Telefonica’s network to reach customers. As such, Google would have to pay Telefónica, because Google users reach Google services through Telefónica’s network. This is completely outrageous: A customer of Telefonica’s will sign up for Telefónica services, to be able to reach several services that exist out there in the Internet: reading newspapers, writing blogs, shopping on-line, checking e-mail, or searching for information. But now the operator sees the cash cow in Google and they try to make up a new excuse to take money from Google, just because they do have the cash. This is plain and simple highway robbery.

Likewise, German publishers complain that this new competitor (Google) has eaten some of their market share of advertisement, and they turn to the government to “help” them by stopping, curbing, or charging Google somehow.

It is outrageous to see how private companies (Telefónica and German publishers for instance) turn to governments to introduce legislation intended to benefit them, but disguised as legislation that curbs some professedly monopolistic practice of Google. It is also shameful to see public authorities (the European Commission or the Italian Government, for instance) introduce legislation to attack Google. Europe must change their ways, embrace innovation and thus embrace strong competition from the outside, if we do want Europe to survive. As a European citizen, I do not want protectionist practices like those of the E.C., Italy, Telefónica (and many others). They are the wrong way to help the European citizen or the European business.

Broadcasting ignorance

This week, TV broadcasts in Spain ceased to be analogue, and DVB-T is the only method used now. For a short period of time, the State authority managing TV broadcasts (Ministry of Industry) will be displaying a message, on the old analogue UHF channels, to remind audiences that they need to switch to DVB-T in order to continue watching TV programs.

The message says: TDT_VisualizaciónLa programación de TV Analógica ha dejado de emitirse por este canal. Puede seguir visualizando este programa por TDT.“, which translates to: “Analogue TV programming broadcasts have ceased on this channel. You may continue to visualize this program on DVB-T.”

The text is incorrect and this is very serious, as lots of people learn to use the language from what they see on TV. The poor ignorant who wrote that text (and everyone else involved in displaying it on TV) meant to say “…you may continue to watch this program on DVB-T”. To “visualize” something is very different from “watching” it. To “visualize” means to represent in visual form some information which cannot otherwise be seen (a yearly rainfall graph, for instance). TV programming can be watched directly without the need to “visualize” anything.

This is a great display of poor management (it seems no one double-checked the text) and poor education (no one was able to properly write the text). Moreover, it shows complete disrespect for the language; this broadcast with the erroneous usage of the verb “to visualize” will further worsen many Spaniards’ utilization of the Spanish language, and this time (like many other times in the past), it is State-promoted. It is worth noting that many journalists in Spain (on TV and printed media) also say “to visualize” when they mean “to watch”. It is regrettable and it is demoralizing.

Responsibility? Not in Spain

We are tired (here in Spain) of seeing multiple cases of politicians in office declining any responsibility for their wrong acts, or also cases of them assuming their responsibility while staying in office to continue their wrong (unlawful even) behaviour.

But today I read in the news that here in Spain a local politician of the Popular Party, Ignacio Uriarte, has been caught drunk driving, when he crashed into a Taxi in Madrid. Uriarte has resigned from his post as PP representative in a Road Safety commission of the Spanish senate. Unfortunately all he said is that he “made a mistake“. That’s no mistake, Mr. Uriarte. Having a few drinks too many before hoping into your car is not a mistake, it is a willful act of irresponsibility. There’s no mistake there. So he has resigned from a small role, but not from his seat in congress. Poor display of “assuming his responsibility”.

To make matters worse, the Secretary General of the PP, María Dolores de Cospedal defends Uriarte, and says that resigning from his seat in congress would be an exaggeration, and this is not necessary.

Drunk driving, along with reckless driving and any other activity that endangers other people, must be heavily punished. The attitude of Uriarte, for keeping his congress seat, and the attitude of his Party (PP), for defending that he should not lose his congress seat, are both despicable. The PP, like any other party, should be far more strict in defending the majority of citizens who cause no harm to others, and stop protecting people like Uriarte, who have shown no respect for the law and for others, specially because he is, supposedly, a representative of the people (he was elected to congress).

Responsibility in Spain? It’s rare… very rare, and vanishing quickly.

Subsidies produce lazy individuals

Spanish daily newspaper ‘El País’ published an interview with surgeon Pedro Cavadas, using a sentence by him as the title: ‘Subsidies produce lazy individuals‘.

Gladly, El País is publishing something like this in big letters. Dr. Cavadas is just saying one of those paramount truths very few people date to admit. Subsidies produce lazy individuals, damaging those who receive them because subsidies are strong private initiate deterrents, while they represent severe burden on taxpayers, whose taxes pay for those subsidies. Moreover, subsidies also impose dependencies, inefficiency, and only drive people to both economic and spiritual poverty. Subsidies are simply free money in exchange for nothing, and as anything that’s free, they are not valued nor appreciated. The very
nature of subsidies makes them prey for abuse, and in the end they are nothing but wasted work and money.

Subsidies should be completely eliminated. Truly needed monetary aid (a very small fraction of existing subsidies in several countries) should be available in exchange for something, committing the aid recipient to a responsible use of the aid, as if it were their own.

Until that happens, subsidies will continue to produce lazy individuals and lazy companies, driving countries and their populations to poverty.