Andalucia Steve the dream

US Bugging for Terror or Money

Are the latest revelations about US survailance more commercial?

New NSA leaks revealed by the British media organisation the Guardian indicate the extent to which monitoring has been done to allies of the US, not just it's potential enemies.

German online news-source Der Spiegel said documents and slides from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden indicating that the NSA bugged the offices of the EU in Washington and at the United Nations in New York.The would have been meetings largely to do with trade.

It also said they enacted an operation from Brussel's NATO headquarters in order to infiltrate phone and email networks at the Council of the European Union's headquarters in Brussels.

To me this is where the breach of trust exhibited by the American's shows its most ugly head. There are indicators here that the information being fished for is commercially sensitive. The Council of the EU controls an annual budget of over 100 billion euros. Having inside information as to where that money is going is of great value to US companies wishing to market into Europe. What safeguards are in place to prevent such information being used by either the govrnment to influence policy or even being sold on to the private sector?

The answer is none which is why it is so dangerous. We must pressure the US now to limit the global reach of it's power to snoop.




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Spanish unemployment over 6.2 million

Spain is number one for unemployment in Europe

Spain - Number One in European Unemployment

I saw this on Facebook today and the owner said share to the world, so here it is. Six million, two hundred and two thousand, seven hundred people are officially unemployed in Spain right now. 240,000 - yes that's nearly a quarter of a million, lost their jobs in the first three months of 2013 (according to the national office of statistics).

Thing to note here is that the Spanish don't have much in the way of unemployment benefit. One has to pay in to the system for at least a year to get three months ub and you have to work five years to get the maximum duration which is still only a year. Then you don't automatically qualify for some other social security benefit. There are low benefits for families with children (cerca 400 euros monthly) or other odd benefits such as 'sobre 45' a benefit of twelve months duration that you can get on a year on year off basis if you are over 45 years of age and have previously paid into the system and qualify on various other criteria. The upshot is though there are a load of people in Spain who don't get any money at all for being out of work. They depend on family, friends, soup kitchens, bins and the back of restaurants and crime. They also work in the black economy.

Spain's black economy is huge. It's not as is often portrayed as an ingrained corrupt characteristic of the Spanish people. It's not as is often said of the Greeks, that people have a distaste for paying tax. In Spain, it seems to me that the main problem is that the system is skewed to deter people from working legally. There is not level at which VAT (IVA) is not applied to businesses in Spain, no allowance as in the UK. The equivalent of national insurance contributions in Spain is a flat rate of 240 euros per month, a horrendous burden for a single person starting out in business alone.

The tax rate is reasonable but filled with traps that catch the unwary. One way to pay depends upon you agreeing a level for a year. People I know have done that and been driven out of business when their income fell.

As such black money is very widespread and very popular. I've seen hundreds of itinerant agricultural laborers milling around at the bottom of town, waiting for farmers to load them into the back of a truck to pick fruit in the summer sun all day for a few euros and hour. I've seen offices, not of small businesses, but chains, which have two sets of books, one for black money, one for white, both of which go to the accountant. I've known employers to declare the minimum wage to get an employee on to the social security system and pay that employee half the declared amount in cash, and the employee says nothing because it's the norm - they say they need the work and everybody does it!

This situation gets worse all the time as more overly bureaucratic legislation comes down from northern Europe. The government implements something that the public servants dish out, the managers of firms either ignore or choose to deal with and if the do incur a cost, pass it down to the helpless employee. Just today I've learned that from the first of June, no property can be sold or rented without an energy certificate conveying it's carbon footprint. Will this sell more houses in a desperate property market? Or will it delay prevent sales, delay salaries and drive even more estate agents out of business? Watch for the unemployment figures in the last quarter of 2013 and I fear you'll see proof that it's the latter.

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Spain Announces Easing Of Austerity

Marino Rajoy To Announce Changes on Friday.

Pic 23/04/2013The austerity news is coming thick and fast. Barely two week after the Reinhart/Rogoff paper was discredited, politicians have been making noises that the end of austerity is near. Now the FT has reported that Spain will be the first government to announce an easing of the measures currently in place. 

In an article that follows the pattern of many other announcements by Rajoy, the idea is 'mooted' by government sources before the official announcement to test the water.

The article says plans will be unveiled to reform to the pensions system, labour market, service sector and fiscal management.

Of particular interest are measures the liberalise the protected professions of which Spain has 174 that have barriers to entry due to specialist entry qualifications. These professions are backed by powerful lobby groups and it will be a battle to get such measures through.

I'll blog more on Friday when the official anouncement comes out but this sounds like the first good news for Spain in a very long time.

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More fuel on the austerity fire

European Commission Boss Barroso Signals the End of Austerity

© European Union, 1995-2012 Used under licenseFurther to my earlier post that Bill Gross of Bond Fund Pimco has come out against austerity, ( another important anti-austerity statement has come from Brussels.

José Manuel Barroso who heads the European Commission, in a story again from the Financial Times said at a press conference that while he defends austerity as being broadly right, he says it has "reached it's limits"!

Reading further down in the statement of 'what he actually said' on the commission web site (, he appears quite critical of the economists behind austerity, saying "I know that there are some technocratic advisors who tell us what is the perfect model to respond to a situation, but when we ask how we implement it, they say that is not my business."

My take on that statement is that he's saying the guys (and gals) who came up with this crazy plan did not tell me what to do and I ended up looking like a right plum.

He goes on to lay blame at the gate of "management, technology, policy, wrong or good decisions, policy and politics". Erm, being the head of the commission, isn't that kind of like his responsibilty? Isn't it the job of Barosso and his elk on the fat cat salaries to figure out what the right policies are and implement them?



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