Monthly Archives: July 2006

Iran's fabricated excuse

Since the beginning of the current surge in violence between Israel and Hezbollah, which has caught Lebanon in the middle, I’ve been thinking that this is no incident, and that it has all been carefully planned.

It is well known that Iran and Syria are behind Hezbollah. Iran has been recently the center of attention for its nuclear program. In late June 2006, the foreign policy chief of the European Union (EU) Javier Solana and Ali Larijani, Iran’s negotiator on the nuclear talks, were to have a meeting to discuss a new proposal to reach an agreement. However, Iran cancelled this meeting and postponed it without further explanations.

A few days later, Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped another two. Israel then responded with counterattacks, to which Hezbollah also replied, and the whole thing escalated to a serious situation.

My theory was that Iran wanted to provoke Israel with Iran’s remote-controlled Hezbollah to carry out the kidnappings and killings, conscious of what Israel’s reaction would be. Once the conflict would be on its way (as it is now in late July), Iran would be able to express their anger for the Israeli aggression on Arab countries, and use it as an excuse to further postpone nuclear talks with the EU, the UN, the US, Russia or whoever.

Iran needs more time to develop its nuclear program without the interference of the international community, and a war between Israel and Arab countries comes in very handy for Iran to distract attention and justify that while Israel continues its aggression, Iran will not discuss its nuclear program.

As a matter of fact, on Friday July 21, 2006, I heard a news report stating Iran’s decision to halt nuclear talks for now because of Israel’s activities in Lebanon. Furthermore, others are already voicing similar opinions.

In the mean time, innocent Lebanese and Israeli civilians are being killed by Israel and Hezbollah, just so Iran can have its fabricated excuse to halt talks with the EU and the rest of the world.

A State surrenders

There are some in Spain who claim that victims of terrorism cannot give an opinion about how to end terrorism. With this article I intent to counter that argument, although it is first necessary to clearly state what is meant by ending terrorism.

Ending terrorism means the stopping the use of intimidation, extortion, fear, violence, killings, and any other activity which threatens individual liberties. No nuances may be introduced in this definition.

The actions of the Spanish Government to end terrorism have spawned ample debate about the wrongly called peace process to achieve the end of… of what? Some say “the end of terrorism” while others talk about “the end of the conflict”. What we need is the end of ETA: the end of terror and of the fear forced upon people. The “end of terrorism” is the end of all freedom-limiting and liberticide activities. Of course, ETA does not talk about the end of its violent activities, but rather about “the end of the conflict”, in reference to purported oppression by Spain on the people of the Basque Country. If I ever see a clear documented case of state oppression on any citizen (be it in the Basque Country or else where in Spain), then we may talk about “the conflict”. In the mean time, the only conflict we have is that ETA has killed, mutilated and threatened a good number of people, who have lost their lives or freedom.

The only urgent matter on the table is putting an end to any activity which limits people’s liberties. In order to achieve this, there are fairly simple tools we can use: they are called “laws”, and all it takes is to enforce them. Once freedom and security are guaranteed for everyone, any political proposition is valid, provided it is raised through established mechanisms (which do not include setting up bombs nor killing).

The Government must concentrate strictly in law enforcement to stop any criminal or illegal activity, so that it may fulfill its duty: ensuring security for people, because otherwise there would be no freedom. These laws allow us to undermine the criminals’ financing and organizational networks. Laws also allow the arrest and prosecution of criminals. The answer to criminal activity cannot be other than the strict law enforcement. Otherwise, we would have to ask ourselves: what good is the law? Okay: it may be that a given law may be outdated, or maybe it was poorly written and passed. In such a case, the Government ought to modify the law, but it must not simply ignore it, nor do its own random interpretations of the law.

The current situation in Spain is that the Government would rather enforce the law only in a soft and comfortable way, so as to avoid getting criminals and killers upset. In doing so, the Spanish Government has managed to legitimize game rules which were unacceptable until now.

From now one, planting bombs and killing people without remorse is an acceptable way to initiate a dialogue. Rather than dedicating its efforts exclusively to arrest and prosecute criminals and assassins, the Government agrees to sit down to talk with ETA assassins, despite the absolute lack of regret on ETA’s part for its violent actions, and while its liberticide activity continues unchanged (terrorist attacks and extortion have not ceased since they announced a “permanent cease fire”). It is important to remember that their announcement and the empty set are one and the same thing: there was nothing new in it, as ETA did not renounce their attacks on civil liberties, nor their criminal activity, nor their territorial and independence aspirations.

It is yet to be seen what issues they plan to talk about. What’s more: do they plan to negotiate? What could be the subject of negotiation? The integration of the Basque Country, Navarra and the french Basque Country in a single independent territory? Reducing the sentences of ETA convicts? I guess the Government must have thought of a few bargaining chips to deal during talks with ETA. Fine. If the Government uses just one of those chips in exchange of ETA ending their extorting and threatening activities, and turning their weapons in, then it means that is quite profitable to kill and extort. Please may you kill at will, for you will obtain what you want, or part of it at least.

Awful situation we’ve got in Spain.

This strategy of surrender by the State before a criminal band is absolutely unacceptable. Talks with assassins should be out of the question. We’ve got laws to establish a certain order and rules. Those who ignore them can be punished according to the very same law, with the only goal or trying to maintain that order. No exceptions nor concessions can be made, for this would void the very concept of the Rule of Law. It turns out that Spain is based on the Rule of Law (“Estado de Derecho” in Spanish, article 1 of the current Spanish Constitution), so it is not an overstatement to say that the current Spanish Government has left the Rule of Law impaired.

I wish to reiterate that the Government may change the Constitution to make Spain run under something other than the Rule of Law, if they do not like to be restricted to comply with the law. There is a well documented procedure to introduce changes in the Constitution.

Therefore, do terrorism victims have a right to give their opinion about how to put an end to terrorism? Of course they do, just as the rest of citizens in this country. Victims quite likely have must stronger feelings against the assassins, but victims are not asking for anything unreal. They ask for the only thing that the Government can be asked to do: to enforce the law, guarantee security and make the Rule of Law effective.

The argument that victims are emotionally affected and cannot think clearly can only come from an idiot, who also thinks that killers and assassins do have the authority to take part in a debate. The emotional state of victims does not disqualify them take part too: that emotional state is precisely the result of ETA’s criminal activity, the band which in the first place has stepped over the law and has violated the human rights of others. Concessions to ETA and dialogue with ETA are not acceptable, but that’s the way the current Spanish Government is taking.

Policies to stimulate research

Why don’t companies in Spain commit resources for technical and scientific research? Before answering that question, it is necessary to answer another one: Should companies commit resources for research activities?

I’ll start off with the second question: Politicians talk a lot about investing in research, and it all looks very nice on the agendas of the European Commission and on the electoral programs of political parties. I do believe research is necessary, but not merely as something that can be directed or required from government, but (and much more importantly) as something that companies wish to invest on, as part of their growth or competitiveness strategy.

Therefore, let us begin by assuming that companies should devote resources to research.

That said, companies will not do company strategy aligned research simply because governments dedicate loads of money to finance or subsidize research projects and activities.

Such help programs through economic aid are not producing any useful results. The very nature of public aid programs to finance and subsidize research is also the reason for these programs’ failure.

Financing and subsidizing are monetary aid obtained after an application process, following a predetermined schedule, and adhering to a series of objectives laid out by the entity issuing the public aid (in Spain, the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Commerce). A company who wishes to use the aid money in a research project, must therefore:

  1. Have a planned project matching the objectives subject to receiving aid.
  2. Adjust its project development calendar to the aid schedule.
  3. Commit resources to manage and prepare a proposal to apply for financial aid.
  4. Have an alternative plan in case the aid is not granted.

That is, all these conditions are precisely reasons to search for aid through other means, or to simply abandon the project, because:

  1. The company’s and the Ministry’s objectives may or may not match.
  2. If the company needs the aid, then the aid granting schedule may not be aligned with the project schedule.
  3. Uncertain of obtaining the grant, the additional cost of going through the proposal process is quite likely to discourage rathen than to encourage a company to apply.
  4. If the company wants to develop its project and it needs additional funds, it will have to seek other means if it does not get the aid grant.

Due to these four reasons, the landscape is rather discouraging to apply for this kind of aid.

However, the Ministry’s research aid programs are quite crowded with applicants. It is clear that companies are applying for such aid. But these are companies (mostly) who do not really need financial aid: Should they obtain the grant, they would kick off the research project; but if they do not receive anything, the projects will simply be abandoned. How can a company carry out its research and innovation plans if it can cancel projects left and right depending on the availability of aid? The answer is simple: because such research plans do not really exist. Companies who apply for aid (the majority of them) do so exclusively to cash in the subsidy money. These are companies who can afford to devote resources to draft proposals, and who do not need the money within a given term; it may be received any time, as long as it comes in.

What do companies who really have a research or innovation plan do? They simply obtain financing through other ways if possible, or simply they do not get to realize such plans.

This situation is real and it shows on the scarce number of Spanish companies who create and build technology products.

Yet, one more mystery remains: In other European countries (France, Germany, U.K., Finland, Ireland, etc…) multinationals such as IBM, HP or Nokia have set up branches of their research and development labs, which do not depend on external financing but are instead financed by the company itself, with the goal of strengthening the business. However, in Spain these companies do not establish their research departments either. Why? Spain has good scientists, engineers and researchers. Salaries in Spain are considerably lower than in many other parts of Europe (let alone the US), and so Spain ought to be a very attractive place for these companies to establish R&D branches: good brains (this is internationally recognized), and at bargain prices.

Hence, is there a reason why large multinational companies do not do research in Spain?

Before answering this question, let us summarize:

  • Company-sponsored research is important, as an integral part of the company’s business strategy.
  • Public aid is not useful for those companies who could truly make good use of them.
  • Public aid ends up being used as revenue, and not investment.

In summary: Subsidies are not an incentive to perform research, and they do not motivate companies to commit their own resources to research. Clearly, the availability of cheap and good minds does not attract foreign investment in research either.

Therefore, the lack of research activity in Spain is not a result of a lack of financing or subsidies, but the reasons for this must be different. Companies will only get involved in research activities if it makes sense for their business. The problem then lies in the fact that Spanish companies do not have an interest in research, although it must be noted that foreign companies do not get established in Spain either to do research, as they do in other countries.

Consequently, if government wants to take action to encourage companies to invest in research, it must follow a different approach than the very much used money injection solution. Government has a far more useful instrument to exert influence in businesses: the laws that affect companies.

It would be considerably more productive if government introduced a number of changes in labour legislation to stimulate the hiring of research professionals by companies. It is necessary to study and implement fiscal incentives to promote investment in research. The money in public aid packages for research should be allocated for non-profit institutions (such as universities) only. The amounts of money currently in public aid could be reduced (while maintaining research aid for universities). The money until now used in subsidies for companies should be eliminated from the budget, and companies should be allowed in invest their money rather than using it to pay taxes destined to be used up in useless aid packages.

I am hardly going to solve the problem by writing this article, but the present research-promoting system in Spain has ridiculous levels of incidence on Spanish technological development, and therefore it is to be changed completely, aiming all efforts at implementing economic and labour reforms to create a dynamic economy, in which research and innovation will be required of companies to survive in the market. This is the only incentive that companies will have to invest on real research. Other reasons to do research “just because” are simply worthless, and a fraud for the company and for the country.

The implementation of such reforms, along with the creation of a true research activity will only have beneficial side effects for the economy, thus positively impacting the whole of society.

Incompatible Health Care

From time to time I observe or I receive news about certain situations that are a direct consequence of the administrative subdivision of Spain into several “autonomous regions”. These are always negative situations for the people, and I see them as proof of my theory about the fact that this administrative subdivision is really something negative for the people in the whole country.

Recently I’ve learned about the case of a student of medicine, graduated from the University of Granada (in the autonomous region of Andalucia). She is currently working for the preparation of an exam to opt for a position of specialization, at a hospital in Madrid (different autonomous region). Later on she intends to move back to Granada, but in Andalucia they won’t simply take her experience in Madrid as valid. An additional exam will be necessary to prove her experience, because she did her preparation exam outside of Andalucia, which does not recognize the tests performed by Madrid.

That is, artificially two medical systems have been established in one same country, and they do not cooperate closely, but rather they create obstacles to the free movement of professionals within the country.

This division of medical and health system administration (and of other systems) among the autonomous regions is an absurd strategy. It implies the creation of multiple health care administration bodies, within a relatively small country, thus multiplying the cost of operating the health care system. Instead of adopting an strategy to reduce the percentage that management costs represent over the total cost, the choice was to create several health care administrations. The overall management cost percentage is higher when each autonomous region has to administer its own health care, compared to a single health care system that serves the whole country.

The result is that fewer resources remain for the actual objective of the health care system: patient care. Moreover, unnecessary bureaucratic procedures are implemented, making the system work more inefficiently. This is but another proof that the administrative subdivision of Spain into autonomous regions is an error, a catalyst for the inefficiency of the public administration in the service that it must provide to citizens.